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I’ve been thinking about creating this post since the spread of coronavirus and the changes it’s brought to our lives. By chance, many of the titles in a recent stack of books I received for review from publishers spoke specifically, I thought, to this theme of comfort in one way or another.
You’ll find here some brand new books and some forthcoming as well as a few from recent years—and one classic that rings true for me in any difficult season (and always).
My intent is that some of these titles bring comfort to kids (and to you). If you’re someone who is hunkering down right now, thank you for taking compassionate action for the greater good by keeping physical distance from others as an act of care. If your job outside your home is vital and necessitates being out, thank you for providing community services that we all rely on with the work you do.
Each of these books speaks to and offers comfort in one way or another, some in seriousness and sincerity and some through a rest from seriousness in favor of silliness.
Wishing you soothing, strength, health, hope, and picture books.
When the Storm Comes written by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo (2020).
This one outlines what we do and what animals do when a storm comes—and readers can apply this to any kind of storm. We prepare, we hunker down, and then, when the storm passes, we go outside, we survey, we repair, we help those who need help. “What do you do when the storm has passed—when the sun comes out and it’s calm at last?”
A Stone Sat Still by Brendan Wenzel (2019).
This is about a stone that sits still and what that stone is to other animals in different lights or seasons or from different perspectives. It speaks to me of permanence and transience, of being of use to others, of being present to what is—now. “A stone sat still with the water, grass, and dirt and it was as it was where it was in the world.”
Like the Moon Loves the Sky by Hena Khan, illustrated by Saffa Khan (2020).
A beautiful picture book that contains a series of wishes for a child as they grow that are deep and kind and full of love, with artwork that warms every page with washes of moon-hues and sky-hues: oranges, golds, blues. From the author: “Every line, or wish, in the book is inspired by the Quran, the Muslim holy book, which offers guidelines on how to live a thoughtful and grounded life filled with fairness, charity, justice, and most of all, love.”
We’ve Got the Whole World in Our Hands by Rafael López (2018).
You’ll know the tune of this one! It’s been transformed slightly to be more about our roles in the world and captures the joy and connection and small moments we have with one another. These magical spreads will truly buoy your heart with hope!
Bedtime for Sweet Creatures, words by Nikki Grimes, pictures by Elizabeth Zunon (2020).
Sweet indeed! A clever mother enlists the help of imaginary animals to coax her child to sleep as the child embodies each one with playful abandon. Rich, patterned, collage illustrations; lyrical language; and a wonderful bedtime routine.
Lilah Tov Good Night by Ben Gundersheimer (Mister G) and Noar Lee Naggan (2020).
“Lilah Tov” is a Hebrew lullaby and this family embarking on a journey—one that has echoes of those taken by refugees—repeats those words to all the bits of nature and the world they pass on their way to toward a new home.
A Last Goodbye by Elin Kelsey, artwork by Soyeon Kim (2020).
Now I need to warn you that this one is about death, and it’s quite frank. It details the way animals say goodbye when one of them dies. The way animals grieve. And it tells us something about what we do when one of us dies. The way we grieve. It is beautiful. It is deep. It is real. And it is full of the comfort of being loved and then sent off with love before returning to the earth in a connected way when the time comes.
Over the Moon by James Proimos, illustrated by Zoey Abbott (2020).
A girl is adopted by wolves, raised by wolves, and then finds her own kind, but still returns to her ever-present and sometimes hilarious wolf-parents. It’s the embodiment of safety found when safety’s needed. A strange, beautiful, and funny fable with the most charming, spirited pastel illustrations.
Hat Tricks by Satoshi Kitamura (2020).
A rabbit is the magician with the hat in this one, and animal, magical surprises ensue!
I Can Be Anything by Shinsuke Yoshitake (2020).
This book is hilarious! It captures a creative kid and an exasperated parent during a guessing game of “What am I?” that is inventive and funny and relatable and kind of never-ending in the best way. Let the guessing begin!
You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith and Danielle Daniel (2017).
This book embodies kindness, joy, and respect for others with engaging, tender, pink-cheeked illustrations. It came out of the author’s desire for “healing and Reconciliation” in response to the history of oppression of Indigenous people, particularly in regards to Residential Schools in Canada.
I Am Loved, poems by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Ashley Bryan (2018).
A collection of poems that exude love for oneself and for others.
‘Ohana Means Family by Ilima Loomis, illustrated by Kenard Pak (2020).
A stunning book that follows the journey of poi being made, from farming to family and community coming together for a lū’au. An uplifting ode to kale or taro and to its centrality in Hawaiian culture and life.
Kaia and the Bees by Maribeth Boelts, illustrated by Angela Dominguez (2020).
A book about beekeeping, bees, bravery, and the sweet-honey-reward of overcoming a fear.
The Red Tree by Shaun Tan (2003).
This is in all honesty my favorite picture book ever and has been since I first discovered it. A picture book that explores what it’s like when the world seems upside-down, when you feel lost and disoriented and down. A book that, even in the middle of all that, still contains vivid hope.
I featured Shaun Tan’s Picture Book Life a few years ago if you want to check that out.
I’m thrilled to present Ekua Holmes’s picture book life today! Ekua Holmes is an artist and illustrator and assistant director at the Center for Art and Community Partnerships at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She’s shown work at numerous galleries and museums and her work is in private collections.
Her website bio starts this way: “Ekua Holmes is a native of Roxbury, MA and a graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, who has devoted her practice to sustaining contemporary Black Art traditions in Boston, as an artist, curator of exhibitions, and as an active member of Boston’s art community.”
“My sense of home is very important to me; home nourishes the essence of my art. But what is the place without the people? I treasure knowing that some of the most significant people of the last century walked the same streets I have walked all my life, touching the lives of those in both the Roxbury community and throughout the country and the world.”
Ekua Holmes received the 2013 NAACP Image Award and the following year she created a Google doodle of Martin Luther King, Jr. (You can purchase a print of her MLK collage image here and there’s an assortment of breathtaking prints available on her website as well.)
The first picture book she illustrated, Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement was published in 2015 and received many accolades, including a Caldecott Honor. (I featured it in this blog post at the time.) And since then she’s illustrated even more picture books.
And let’s talk about her picture book art! Holmes is known for mixed media collage. Collage that is vibrant. Bold. Beaming with rays of color and light, dripping with movement and energy like lava, patterned in peacock-feathered fans.
“…each book is its own universe and the restrictions of the page, accommodating text, and other things help me to stretch as an artist, and try new things on and off the page.”
—From Holmes’s interview with Marion Dane Bauer, author of The Stuff of Stars
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (2015).
This is a remarkable book about a truly remarkable woman, a biography of Fannie Lou Hamer, beacon of voting rights activism, told in poems and sunlit collage pieces.
“I primarily use collage techniques with acrylic paint. Collaging is basically glueing things onto a surface – photos, newspapers, lace- whatever helps to tell the story. My work is made of cut and torn paper and paint. I am also a proud and committed thrifter. I am always at the flea markets and thrift stores picking up things that speak to me. Just as I was about to work on the image of the doll Fannie Lou Hamer’s mother bought for her, I ran across these two old handmade dolls at a thrift store in Salem, MA. They seemed to be just the kind of dolls that Fannie Lou Hamer would have received from her Mother. They were so authentic! It was as if the universe had provided just what I needed.”
Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (2017).
This picture book contains 20 poems that celebrate poets throughout history—Naomi Shihab Nye, Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou, Sandra Cisneros, Billy Collins, Rumi, and more—a compilation of words and verse and creativity, of history and wonder and heritage.
The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (2018).
Ekua Holmes illustrated this poem about the beginning and unfolding of the universe as well as you and me with mesmerizing marbled paper collage—a book that stuns and shines and connects us all to everything.
“In addition to bringing an aspect of science to children at a young age, this story reminds us that we all come from the same place and are made from the same stuff, no matter how divided the world may seem.
The story begins with the empty void of the universe and comes down to the simple reality that love fuels everything.”
What Do You Do With a Voice Like That? by Chris Barton and Ekua Holmes (2018).
Another biography, this one of Barbara Jordan, who was a congresswoman from Texas who spoke out for justice and the rights of the marginalized with her commanding voice, sharp intellect, and wisdom.
Black is a Rainbow Color written by Angela Joy, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (2020).
This latest one is, so far, my favorite picture book of 2020 (and it may remain that way!). The narrator acknowledges that black is not a color found in rainbows, but sings the song of the color black and where it’s found in nature and then goes on to sing the song of Black history and people, Black artists, Black culture. “Black is a color. Black is a culture…Black is a rainbow, too.”
Ekua Holmes’s artwork here looks more two-dimensional with primary colors that pop on many pages, all the spreads full of patterns, lines, and shapes—look out for diamonds, a shape that, in some ways like a rainbow, shimmers, reflects, intersects, and connects.
Thanks to the generosity of Candlewick Press and Roaring Brook Press, we’re giving away four Ekua Holmes-illustrated picture books!! Enter below to win OUT OF WONDER, VOICE OF FREEDOM, THE STUFF OF STARS, and BLACK IS A RAINBOW COLOR! (U.S. only.)
You might be interested in my last Their Picture Book Life feature on illustrator Sean Qualls.
Picture books touch on so many topics, including elements surrounding food—feasting it, traditional kinds of it, and the connections shared over it. Here’s a roundup of 18 food-centric picture books to savor! Bonus, some of these include recipes in the back matter too!
Freedom Soup by Tami Charles, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara (December 10, 2019).
Ti Gran teaches Belle to make Freedom Soup for the new year in a book that celebrates the history of the Haitian Revolution, family, and the joy and connectivity of traditions. Includes a recipe at the back and the most wonderful, gestural illustrations by Jacqueline Alcántara.
Amy Wu and Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang, illustrated by Charlene Chua (2019).
The main character struggles to make the “perfect” bao with her family until she discovers her own answer—making some just her size. Sweet, relatable, delicious.
Priya Dreams of Marigolds and Masala by Meenal Patel (2019).
Babi Ba reminisces about her memories of India by relaying sights and smells and spices with her granddaughter while they make rotli together.
Apple Cake: A Gratitude by Dawn Casey and Geneviève Godbout (2019).
A series of thank you’s to nature and its ingredients for, you guessed it, apple cake!
Wild Berries by Julie Flett (2013).
A contemplative journey in the woods for blueberry-picking with words in Cree and a recipe for wild blueberry jam. (You’ll find this one in my feature of Julie Flett’s Picture Book Life too.)
No Kimchi for Me by Aram Kim (2017).
Yoomi loves her grandmother’s food—except for kimchi, something the “big kids” eat. She’s determined to develop a taste for it to prove she’s a big kid too.
A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin (2018).
An inventive, gorgeously illustrated mother-daughter moon myth inspired by Mid-Autumn Festival and mooncake midnight snacks!
Julia, Child by Kyo Maclear, pictures by Julie Morstad (2013).
A fictional imagining inspired by Julia Child on keeping the joie de vivre of childhood in cooking and eating no matter how old you are. And the one and only Coco Cake Land made chocolate almond cupcakes from this picture book in our collaborative blog post a few years ago too!
Thank You, Omu by Oge Mora (2018).
Omu’s stew smells so good, it attracts all kinds of visitors from her neighborhood, who she shares it with. When she has none left, those same people show up to return the favor. You can check out my post and craft to go with this lovely picture book here.
Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando written by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Kana Urbanowicz (2019).
A biography of Momofuku Ando who invented instant ramen with the desire to provide convenient, tasty meals to hungry people after World War II.
Frankie’s Favorite Food by Kelsey Garrity-Riley (2019).
A school story about food and costumes that’s full of cute food puns!
Dumpling Dreams: How Joyce Chen Brought the Dumpling from Beijing to Cambridge written by Carrie Clickard, illustrated by Katy Wu (2017).
This picture book is the story of Joyce Chen who brought dumplings from Beijing to Cambridge and became a restauranteur and TV show host!
Porcupine’s Pie by Laura Renauld, illustrated by Jennie Poh (2018).
A sweet story of baking, sharing, and friendship.
Saffron Ice Cream by Rashin (2018).
Rashin visits the beach in Brooklyn and compares and contrasts it to the beach she used to visit in Iran, the home she misses. Luckily, she meets a new friend and a new ice cream flavor in her new home, both ways to sweeten it.
Tea With Oliver by Mika Song (2017).
This one centers on two tea drinkers destined for friendship, eventually.
Max Makes a Cake by Michelle Edwards, illustrated by Charles Santoso (2014).
A story of a sibling making a birthday cake for his sister that folds in the Passover story and Jewish traditions as well.
To Market To Market by Nikki McClure (2011).
An exploration of a farmer’s market—its food and its growers.
Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony (2013).
This picture book has two key ingredients that make it a fit for a food list: manners and donuts! Plus, you can check out the donut recipe my dear friend at Thirsty for Tea made to pair with Mr. Panda’s story a couple of years ago.
Your turn! Any favorite food-centric picture books to share?
Autumn means monarch butterflies migrating from Canada to Mexico and this vibrant picture book celebrates the amazing annual occasion with lyrical text in both Spanish and English to read or sing!
Señorita Mariposa does several things all at once. It pays tribute to one monarch butterfly, and the many like it who travel together, pollinating flowers along the way.
It shows the beauty of these magnificent marigold insects dancing through the sky by way of Marcus Almada Rivero‘s lush, crisp, and joyful illustrations.
And finally, it encourages love and care for the world around us, for these creatures who are part of a vast ecosystem that connects us all. The above spread in particular shows people doing just that through a community garden.
A lively book that takes monarchs as its muse to inspire song and sweetness and science!
Big thanks to Penguin for the review copy and images!
Not only that, but this book has also inspired a butterfly clothespin craft!
Kait Walsh is the visionary behind the Zinnia and the Bees pom-poms I’ve made with kids in libraries and bookstores for the last two years AND she devised a yarn bomb for us to do with young artists the week my book launched, so I’m already a big admirer and super grateful to her.
She’s a former teacher and illustrator who makes books for kids—you can check out her latest one, Don’t Cry Duck. She tells stories and facilitates crafts and does art-inspired community projects all over Los Angeles and I’m happy to have her on This Picture Book Life.
Over to Kait!
“Little butterfly you caught my eye”
This craft was inspired by the beauty of one butterfly and the incredible journey they make when millions of them come together.
Making this with your family? Create butterflies in honor of your relatives and discuss how the butterflies migrate north over three or four generations.
Making this with your class? Use it as a lesson about working together. Have each student make a butterfly, attach the clothespins to yarn or a string, and hang it somewhere in your classroom as a bright and beautiful reminder of connectedness.
Allow your child or students to play and discover new and unique shapes as they paint the wings. But the real fun happens when you clip all the butterflies together in a group, reminiscent of the beautiful illustrations by Marcus Almada Rivero of the Sierra Mountain butterfly hibernation in the oyamel fir trees.
The sky’s the limit! xx
Thank you so much, Kait, for making this little butterfly come to life!
For almost a decade, Kait Walsh taught five and six year-olds in a classroom. Now she spends her days creating art and stories for kids and kids at heart. Her art is a love letter. A letter that has been sketched, painted, cut, carved, stamped, sewn, glued…everything but the kitchen sink! But like all the things she has ever worked on, the real magic happens in the spaces where it interacts with you! Follow Kait on Instagram for more art, more stories and more community.
My favorite thing about this picture book is the way it plays with expectations and perception and reversals, namely who is Alma and who is the beast. It might not be who you first assume! In fact, like the cover, this book turns what we expect from a fairy tale on its head. Plus, a shaggy forest containing a “plumpooshkie” butterfly—I mean, this world is as inventive and charming as a world can be.
If you’ve read Ooko, her first author-illustrator offering, you’ll know that Esmé Shapiro likes to experiment with perception, the unexpected, playfulness, hand-drawn type, and quirky yet gorgeous artwork where you can see the strokes and seep of watercolors and paint, all with a fantastical quality. (She also illustrated Yak and Dove by Kyo Maclear, whose picture book life I’ve featured.)
And now…the trailer! Made by Esmé Shapiro, followed by an interview with the author-illustrator and some behind the scenes photos.
This Picture Book Life: How did you conceive of ALMA AND THE BEAST?
Esmé Shapiro: I always have believed that ideas land on our heads like little clouds. They have a mind of their own and we never know when they are going to choose us. The idea for Alma and the Beast landed on my head about six years ago in the form of an image. The image was of a little girl being surprised by a hairy being in her garden. It was a striking idea, and I wanted to unfold the story around it.
TPBL: What were you thinking about when you got the idea and began the process of creating it?
ES: Once the image came to me, I wanted to understand it more. The big thing I wanted to explore was, what did hair mean to me? This little hairy girl in the garden – who was she? I have always been fascinated with the symbology of hair. To me, it represents the side of ourselves that is more connected with nature and to our instincts. In Alma and the Beast I used hair as a symbolic device for our inner wildness, our untamed and true selves.
Originally, the story was told from the point of view of the little girl, who was frightened to see a bluish grey hairy girl in her garden. Eventually I started to question why I was telling it from the perspective of the little girl. I suppose I related to her right off the bat because she looked more like me. I felt it was important to challenge that impulse, because the little hairy being would be just as frightened to see the little girl. That’s when I decided to flip the story on its head and tell the tale from the perspective of the hairy girl. That’s when the fun started. What would her world look like? And how would that change in perspective challenge our ideas about what we expect from a picture book and from other people?
TPBL: What did you want to achieve or get across to readers especially in terms of reversals and perception?
ES: Kids and adults alike are often wary of people they don’t understand, when really if we just took the time to get to know them, we would find we are much more alike than different. We all just need to feel safe and most importantly, be loved for who we are. In Alma and the Beast, I wanted to show that empathy is a powerful tool that can bring us closer together in understanding each other. I think the reversal in point of views from the beginning helps hit this message home. It was important to me to show that, at first, Alma was imperfect in how she reacted to this strange human creature in her backyard. She even refers to her as “a beast.” But a conversation with the “beast” leads Alma to understand that this creature is really just frightened and far away from home. Alma’s empathic moment brings these two girls together, and eventually leads her on an adventure into friendship and understanding.
TPBL: Where did you find inspiration for Alma’s “hairy world”?
ES: I drew a lot inspiration from nature, especially willow trees, who seem to always have the best hair styles. That’s why I wanted a willow tree to be the portal between the two worlds, because they seem like they could belong in either realm. I started to see grass as the earth’s hair, and I thought about fuzzy moss and the thin lines on bark, too. And, of course underwater plants, like lanky kelp and stringy seaweed. I imagined that in the hairy world, the plants and trees are always a little wiggly. I tried to channel Mary Blair, and the strength of her landscape design for early Disney animations. I wanted Alma’s world to seem like it could possibly exist if we just looked long enough through the forest – perhaps in a bog behind a log.
TPBL: Please tell us about the process of making the trailer, which is wonderful!
ES: Thank you so much for your kind words! I knew from the beginning that I wanted to send Alma and the Beast into the world with an animated book trailer. The world just begs to be explored through sound and movement. But there was only one small problem: I don’t know how to animate.
So I tried to teach myself – but, boy, was that difficult! My instinct was to imagine the story as if it were a play. So I made a stage out of paper cutouts and created little paper dolls of Alma and the Beast. Then I took photos of it at a photo studio in the back of my friend’s shop. I spent a few days slowly moving the paper dolls across the stage. It took a long time and many bowls of soup to get through it.Then I brought the footage home and thought it looked wonderful, but it was really missing the hair moving through the wind. I taught myself how to draw on top of the photos to create a sense of movement.
Once I was finished animating some hair flowing in the wind and tiny squishy bugs, I had my incredibly talented friend Allyson make the soundtrack. Allyson has been very supportive of this hairy tale from the beginning and feels very close to it. So when I asked her to make the music for the trailer, I barely had to give her any direction. She used sounds from a really old-fashioned sampling keyboard called a mellotron. The recorded sounds are from people playing instruments in the 1950s. It gives the sound a really interesting texture. The result is a song that is equal parts whimsy and bizarre. In my mind, it carries you away to another realm: Alma’s hairy world.
We’re giving away a pair of books in honor of Alma and the Beast‘s release! Hop on over to my Instagram account (@writesinLA) to enter a giveaway for both of Esmé Shapiro’s author-illustrated books, Ooko and Alma! Come see!