Category Archives: Perfect Picture Books

PPBF – Marwan’s Journey

With the scent of holidays in the air, November always reminds me of journeys – those taken, to visit family and friends, and those yet to come. But as I reflect on these generally happy journeys in my own life, I can’t help but think of those people undertaking difficult journeys for other reasons, whether fleeing from violence or poverty or seeking a better life in some new location. Today’s Perfect Picture Book recounts the journey of one such child.mne_DE_Marwan's Journey_Cov_z_Layout 1

Title: Marwan’s Journey

Written By: Patricia de Arias

Illustrated By: Laura Borràs

Publisher/Date: minedition (Michael Neugebauer Publishing, Ltd)/2018 (first published in Spanish as El Camino de Marwan, Amanuta, Chile/2016)

Suitable for Ages: 5-7 (or older)

Themes/Topics: refugees; war; courage; hope

Opening:

I take giant steps even though I am small. One, two, three…crossing the desert.

Brief Synopsis: When the cold darkness of war arrives at Marwan’s house, he flees on foot, joining a caravan of refugees, but always remembering happy times with his family and dreaming of a peaceful future, of returning to his homeland.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn more about the refugee experience with materials from Amnesty International;
  • If you were going on a journey, what would you bring? Choose three favorite toys or books that you’d bring along;
  • Marwan travels mainly on foot. Think of other ways that people travel, and draw a picture of your favorite way to travel.

Why I Like this Book:

With its young, named main character traveling by foot to escape war, Marwan’s Journey is a haunting window into the refugee experience. Although the setting is not named, the reader learns that Marwan crosses a desert and reaches a border with the sea. And although he seemingly travels without parents or other relatives, it’s clear that Marwan is one of many undertaking this journey.

Told in sparse, lyrical prose, Marwan’s Journey enables the reader to walk along with Marwan, as he places one foot in front of the other, “one, two, three,” a “line of humans like ants crossing the desert”. He doesn’t look back, but he knows that, without hesitation, one day, he will return to “plant a garden with my hands, full of flowers and hope.”

With its glimpses of happy memories, its focus on the act of traveling, and its promise of a hopeful future, I think de Arias presents a believable portrait of a child refugee while not focusing too much on issues that would be difficult for children.

Borràs’ ink and color-washed illustrations have a child-like quality, at times seeming even surrealistic. Utilizing primarily sepia tones as Marwan crosses the desert, she adds pops of color as he remembers life before the war and as he looks forward to a life back in his homeland and prays “that the night never, never, never goes so dark again.”

A Note about Craft:

Like most of the refugee picture books, de Arias utilizes first-person point-of-view which renders the narrator’s experience more immediate. Unlike refugee stories such as Francesca Sanna’s The Journey or Nicola Davies’ The Day War Came, de Arias names the narrator, choosing a male name of Arabic origin that means “flint stone,” a stone used to start fires.

Interestingly, de Arias includes a flashback to life before the conflict which, while providing relief from the tedium of the long march, may be difficult for younger children to follow and is not a technique usually found in picture books.

Per the jacket cover, de Arias is a Spaniard currently residing in Brazil, where she has published a number of children’s books.

Borràs is an “internationally acclaimed illustrator who has published numerous books in many countries”.

minedition publishes picture books of the highest quality that “open the door to the world” for children….After 10 years with the Swiss Nord Sud Publishing, minedition – michael neugebauer edition – was founded 2004, first as an imprint with Penguin and now independent and distributed in North America by IPG.”

Marwan’s Journey received a Special Mention at the Bologna Ragazzi Awards in 2017 and a starred review in Kirkus.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – The Dress and the Girl

I first learned of today’s Perfect Picture Book from a New York Times review this past August. The title intrigued me, and I knew I had to find and review this picture book. As I’m traveling as this review posts, and as we’re entering into a season when many of us journey to celebrate holidays, I thought it was a Perfect Picture Book for today.

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Title: The Dress and the Girl

Written By: Camille Andros

Illustrated By: Julie Morstad

Publisher/Date: Abrams Books for Young Readers/2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: immigration; memory; journeys

Opening:

Back when time seemed slower and life simpler, there was a dress. A dress much like many others, made for a girl by her mother.

Brief Synopsis:

When a young girl and her family journey from Greece to America, the young girl loses her favorite dress.

Links to Resources:

  • Have you ever moved from one house, town, city or country to another place? Draw or describe something that you remember from the place you left;
  • In the story, the dress and the girl rode in a wagon and sailed in a boat. What types of vehicles have you used to travel?
  • Do you have a favorite outfit that you like to wear or a favorite toy or stuffed animal with whom you do everything? Describe or draw that outfit or object;
  • The young girl and her family arrive to the US at Ellis Island. Learn more about Ellis Island and US immigration;
  • Read the Author’s Note about the inspiration for this book and her hopes for immigrants and refugees today.

Why I Like this Book:

The Dress and the Girl is a gentle, lyrical immigration story, that will appeal to younger and older children. Unlike many immigration stories that focus on the terrors a refugee or family faces or others that focus solely on one aspect of the refugee or immigration experience, The Dress and the Girl provides glimpses into a bucolic life prior to the journey, describes the journey with kid-centric details, and offers hope that the girl, and her beloved dress, settle into their new country at long last.

Parted at Ellis Island, when the dress is placed in a trunk that the girl and her family fail to retrieve, the story follows the dress’ quest to reunite with her beloved girl. As the dress “traveled the world – searching”, days, weeks, months and years passed, and, in illustrations, the reader sees the young girl become a woman and mother. I won’t spoil the ending, but trust me, it’s extraordinary.

Morstad’s soft palette suits the story well. I particularly enjoyed the scenes at Ellis Island, where, utilizing two wordless spreads, Morstad shows first the hubbub of the arrivals hall and then the loneliness of the lost dress.

A Note about Craft:

As is evident from the title, The Dress and the Girl, a beloved object sewn by the girl’s mother takes center stage in this immigration story. Like a stuffed animal or pet, the dress accompanies the girl everywhere until they are parted. By focusing on the dress, instead of the girl, I think Andros is able to summarize the girl’s settlement process more quickly and show how she thrives in her new environment, even as she retains memories shared with the dress.

Andros repeats a series of activities four times: riding in a wagon, sailing in a boat, going to school, jumping rope and playing tag. In the first instance, Andros sets the “life before the journey” scene, showing the reader what the dress and girl did before leaving Greece. The next instance recounts the journey. The dress then embarks on her own journey, where she does some of these activities, but all are mentioned. And, finally, the pair remember these activities together. Although for a picture book this may seem like a lot of repetition, the refrain-like repetition and subtle changes act, in my mind, as a framework that ties the story together.

Monica Edinger reviewed The Dress and the Girl along with other immigration and refugee books in the New York Times earlier this year. Visit Andros’ website to learn more about her and The Dress and the Girl. Visit Morstad’s website to see more of her illustrations.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Sing to the Moon

I’ve reviewed a few books set in Africa, including, most recently, Cinderella of the Nile, but none set in Uganda – until today. The cover illustration beckoned. The gently rhyming text paired with detail-filled illustrations kept me reading, and re-reading. I hope you enjoy this Perfect Picture Book as much as I do!

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Title: Sing to the Moon

Written By: Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl

Illustrated By: Sandra van Doorn

Publisher/Date: Lantana Publishing/October 2018

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: wishes; rainy day; intergenerational story; #ReadYourWorld; rhyming; family.

Opening:

If I had one wish, I would reach the stars, then ride a supernova straight to Mars! Jjajja tells me, “Sing to the moon,” and perhaps my wish will be granted soon.

Brief Synopsis:

On a rainy day in Uganda, a grandfather shares memories and stories with his grandson.

Links to Resources:

  • This story occurs in Uganda, a country in Africa; learn more about Africa and Uganda;
  • If you had one wish, what would you wish? Describe or draw a picture of what you wished;
  • In a note to readers, Isdahl asks if you’ve “ever been stuck at home on a rainy day.” Discover some rainy day activities;
  • The narrator’s grandfather in Sing to the Moon shares stories from his childhood. Ask a grandparent or an elderly relative, neighbor or family friend about her or his childhood.

Why I Like this Book:

Sing to the Moon is a heart-warming, intergenerational picture book that provides a window into life in Uganda, a country I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting. Told in gentle rhyme, Sing to the Moon begins with the young, unnamed narrator wishing for intergalactic adventure only to awaken to another dreary, rainy day. But is it? Not if Jjajja, the narrator’s grandfather, has his way. As the pair undertake mundane, everyday tasks, Jjajja recounts stories from his childhood. And as the day ends, “night adventures” begin. Jjajja reads stories of adventure, treasure, fables, and “African kingdoms.” But Jjajja keeps the best to last: His own storytelling followed by the stories of nature that surround us.

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Photograph of interior page from Sing to the Moon

Isdahl fills our journey through this rainy day with details of Ugandan life, and van Doorn’s soft, pastel illustrations contain further glimpses of Uganda, including local produce, vegetation and scenery. With soft blues throughout, sprinkled with flecks of night stars and splashes of bright color, van Doorn transports readers to Uganda and into the narrator’s dreams and his grandfather’s stories. Throughout, a small white dog appears on most every spread, a small detail that younger listeners, in particular, will enjoy spotting.

A Note about Craft:

Isdahl utilizes first-person point-of-view to relate the story, which brings an immediacy to the day’s events. Sharing first his fantastical wishes and then his disappointment at the reality of “the patter of rain”, clouds spreading “like a charcoal stain” and “hours with nothing to do”, the narrator sets the reader up for the “aha” moment, “[b]ut then” he hears Jjajja, his grandfather. The “meat” of the story follows: A shared romp through Jjajja’s memories and stories that transport the narrator far from the rainy day.

As mentioned above, Isdahl uses gentle rhyme to tell her story. Not only does the rhyming text provide momentum to transport the reader through this quiet day, but it’s also lulling, perfect for a bedtime read.

The title of Sing to the Moon appears twice in the text, once in the beginning and once at the end, as bookends to the day. We learn from the context that singing to the moon is a means of ensuring that wishes come true. I love that Isdahl chose this presumably Ugandan practice as her title – similar to the “wishing upon a star” with which I’m familiar, but rooted in the place where this story occurs.

Per the book jacket, Isdahl “was born in the US to Ugandan parents and works in international development in East and Southern Africa.” See interviews with her at the Brown Bookshelf and Mater Mea following the release of her debut picture book, Sleep Well, Siba and Saba (Lantana Publishing, UK/2017, US/2018), also set in Uganda and illustrated by French-native van Doorn, who lives and works in Australia. See more of van Doorn’s illustrations on her website.

UK-based Lantana Publishing “is a young, independent publishing house producing inclusive picture books for children.” Lantana’s books are distributed in the US and Canada by Lerner Publisher Services.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there! And I’ll be linking this post to a new, #ReadYourWorld initiative coming soon, Kids Read the World: Africa.

PPBF – Peace and Me

Today’s Perfect Picture Book debuted one month ago, on 21 September, the International Day of Peace. I think this is a perfect day to review it as the 66th annual Jane Addams Children’s Book Award Ceremony takes place in New York City this afternoon.

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Title: Peace and Me

Written By: Ali Winter

Illustrated By: Mickaël EL Fathi

Publisher/Date: LantanaPublishing/September 2018

Suitable for Ages: 7-11

Themes/Topics: peace; Nobel Laureates; #NF; biography

Opening:

ALFRED NOBEL invented a substance that helped countries go to war, but he is best remembered for his amazing contribution to world peace. How did this happen?

Brief Synopsis: A collection of 12 short biographies of winners of the Nobel Peace Prize of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Links to Resources:

  • Complete the sentence “Peace is…” by writing or drawing what you think peace means;
  • View the book trailer;
  • Learn more about the Nobel Prizes and check out the teacher resources for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize.

Why I Like this Book:

Arranged chronologically, Peace and Me introduces children to 12 well-known and lesser-known winners of the Nobel Peace Prize from around the world. Linked together with tag lines that explore what “peace is” in the context of each winner, the one-page biographies highlight the impact the winners had on the world.

From such well-known figures as Bishop Desmond Tutu (1984 winner), whose peace includes “finding ways to forgive” and Jane Addams (1931 winner), whose peace includes “giving people the skills to thrive”, to lesser-known Fridtjof Nansen of Norway (1922 winner), whose peace is “making sure everyone has a home”, Peace and Me provides not only important biographies of peace builders but also explores the various aspects of peace their work represented.

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Photograph of interior spread from Peace and Me

Filled with gorgeous, full-page, vibrant collaged illustrations, Peace and Me will be a valuable resource for classrooms, libraries and home. I particularly love how each biography shows what one person can do to help the world and support an aspect of peace, and how it also encourages readers to take action to promote peace in some way. I also like that Peace and Me begins with a brief biography of Alfred Nobel and his bequest to fund Prizes, thus providing context for the biographies. The addition of a timeline, world map, and endnote summarizing what peace is and asking “What does peace mean to you?” further the impact of this timely and beautiful book.

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Photograph of interior spread from Peace and Me

A Note about Craft:

A compilation of 12 (really 13, including Nobel) short biographies could quickly become tedious and boring, too listy. How does Winter avoid that? I think by starting with a definition of peace, “Peace is…”, for each honoree, and then relating that definition to a particular individual, Winter draws the reader into the narrative and provides a framework for examining each person and the concept of peace.

For younger children and more visually-minded readers, EL Fathi has hidden a young girl in every illustration.

From the book jacket, Ali Winter is “an experienced anthologist and non-fiction writer from the United Kingdom”. View more of French-Moroccan illustrator EL Fathi’s work on his website.

UK-based Lantana Publishing “is a young, independent publishing house producing inclusive picture books for children.” Lantana’s books are distributed in the US and Canada by Lerner Publisher Services.

Amnesty International has endorsed Peace and Me. Read a review at The Book Activist.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

 

PPBF – Bookjoy Wordjoy

Before National Hispanic Heritage Month draws to a close, I want to share a recently published book of poetry that bridges languages and celebrates the power of words to bring joy to all.

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Title: Bookjoy Wordjoy

Written By: Pat Mora

Illustrated By: Raul Colón

Publisher/Date: Lee & Low Books Inc./2018

Suitable for Ages: 6-12 (or younger)

Themes/Topics: reading; writing; poetry; multicultural

Opening:

Books and Me

We belong/ together,/ books and me,/ like toast and jelly/ o queso y tortillas./ Delicious! ¡Delicioso!/ Like flowers and bees,/ birds and trees,/ books and me.

Brief Synopsis: In a series of 14 poems, Mora explores the joys of reading and writing.

Links to Resources:

  • Mora defines “bookjoy” as the “fun of reading” in her “Welcome” to Bookjoy Wordjoy; share a book you enjoy with a friend or family member;
  • Wordjoy is the “fun of listening to words, combining words, and playing with words – the fun of writing”, Mora explains in the “Welcome”. Think of the words you enjoy hearing or speaking aloud. Try to combine them in a fun, silly or serious poem;
  • Mora is a founder of a literacy initiative called “Children’s Day, Book Day, in Spanish, El día de los niños, el día de los libros, [which] is a year-long commitment to celebrating all our children and to motivating them and their families to be readers, essential in our democracy”; check out the Día resources;
  • Discover Mora’s tips to create a bookjoy family.

Why I Like this Book:

This is a fun book to read aloud and share in the home, library or classroom. As Mora reveals in an acrostic poem entitled “Wordjoy”, it’s “música” she hears when she reads and writes. And it’s her love of words, reading and writing that fill this book with the joy that leaps from each page.

In a poem entitled “Writing Secrets”, Mora shares tips to encourage children of all ages and abilities to think about their own unique experiences, write and revise what they’ve written, and then share their stories with “family and friends.” In “Jazzy Duet/Dueto de jazz”, she follows each English line with its Spanish translation, which, I think, will help English or Spanish speakers learn the other language and find beauty in it: Play/ Juega/ with sounds./ con sonidos.

Most of the poems appear opposite Colón’s full-page, watercolor and Prismacolor pencil illustrations that capture the exuberant joy of Mora’s poetry.

A Note about Craft:

Bookjoy Wordjoy is a compilation of 14 poems about the joys of reading and writing. I love how the poems differ but follow this theme. As readers and creators, I think it’s important to consider how reading and creating inform each other.

Mora is a Latina of Mexican heritage and Colón was born and lived as a child in Puerto Rico. From Spanish words sprinkled through the poetry to Colón’s inspiration from “the works of some Central American artists, including Rufino Tamayo”, Latinx heritage flows through the pages.

Visit Mora’s website to see more of her many books. Read a recent interview with Colón in Publishers Weekly and see a recent interview with Mora and Colón about Bookjoy Wordjoy.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – Me and My Fear

When I saw today’s Perfect Picture Book advertised, I couldn’t wait to find, read  and review it. I hope you find it as captivating as I did!

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Title: Me and My Fear

Written & Illustrated By: Francesca Sanna

Publisher/Date: Flying Eye Books (an imprint of Nobrow Ltd.)/September 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5+

Themes/Topics: fear; immigrant; moving; empathy

Opening:

I have always had a secret. A tiny friend called Fear.

Brief Synopsis:

When a young girl and her family arrive in a new country, the girl’s fear grows and keeps her from making friends and adjusting to her new life, until she realizes that she’s not the only one with fear.

Links to Resources:

  • Sometimes we all are afraid. What scares you? What do you do when you’re scared?
  • How do you welcome newcomers to your neighborhood or school? Try one or more of the 20 Simple Acts to learn more about refugees or help one or more of them feel welcome;
  • See the Classroom Guide for more ideas.

Why I Like this Book:

With warm, retro-feeling illustrations and short text, Sanna personifies the fear that everyone experiences at times in a very kid-relatable way. As the story begins, Fear is a “tiny friend”, a helpful being that keeps the unnamed MC safe. But after “we came to this new country,” Fear grows and keeps the girl from experiencing the new neighborhood and making friends at school. It’s Fear that “hates” the new school, that “grows angry” when the girl’s name is mispronounced, that keeps the girl alone at break times. Through sharing art with another student, though, the young girl begins to reach out and then discovers that others have their own fears. As she does so, Fear reverts to its old, smaller self as “school is not so difficult anymore”.

I think Me and My Fear will help kids who experience fear in unfamiliar situations understand that they aren’t alone. It also will help other kids empathize with newcomers or those who keep to themselves, when they understand that it may be fear that holds these loners back. While the young MC is a newcomer to a country and school, I think the story will resonate with others, too, as they face any new situations.

Sanna’s warm color palate and the rounded curves she uses to depict Fear exude a feeling of comfort.

A Note about Craft:

As in her debut picture book, The Journey, Sanna has chosen to not name the Main Character, thus providing an Everyman-type of story. She also uses first-person point of view which, I think, brings an immediacy to the story. Interestingly, the MC in Me and My Fear is the same MC as in The Journey, so that this book is, in effect, a continuation of the refugee’s journey.

An illustrator-author, Sanna tells much of the story in illustrations only, and it’s a low word-count picture book. Sanna pictures Fear as a ghost-like creature, similar, in my mind, to Beekle, in Dan Santat’s The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend. By making Fear a character, Sanna can show readers how Fear accompanies the young girl, demonstrate how it grows, and even, in one full-page spread, show how the MC must carry Fear on her back.

When I first read the title, Me and My Fear, I was a bit perplexed. Wouldn’t “I and My Fear,” or “My Fear and Me” be more grammatically correct? But then it struck me: the title hearkens back to an old song title: Me and My Shadow. It thus puts the MC’s experience into context: Fear has accompanied people throughout history and in many places, and it continues to do so.

From the publisher’s website, I learned that Me and My Fear “is based on research that creator Francesca Sanna did in classrooms—asking children to draw their fears and encouraging them to talk about what made them afraid.” I also learned that Amnesty International has endorsed it.

The publisher, Flying Eye Books (FEB, for short),  “is the children’s imprint of award-winning visual publishing house Nobrow. Established in early 2013, FEB sought to retain the same attention to detail in design and excellence in illustrated content as its parent publisher, but with a focus on the craft of children’s storytelling and non-fiction.”

Visit Sanna’s website to see more of her work, including illustrations from The Journey, one of the first picture books to shed light on the current refugee crisis in Europe.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

PPBF – The Day You Begin

Though today is its one-month birthday, today’s perfect picture book already has garnered many starred reviews and is on several lists as a future award winner. Once you read it, I think you’ll know why!

9780399246531Title: The Day You Begin

Written By: Jacqueline Woodson

Illustrated By: Rafael López

Publisher/Date: Nancy Paulsen Books (an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group)/2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: feeling different; diversity; self-image; self-esteem; fear; bravery

Opening:

There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.

Brief Synopsis: Several unnamed young narrators reflect on how it’s not easy to take the first steps into a place where nobody knows you, especially when you feel different because of how you look or talk, where you’re from or even what you eat.

Links to Resources:

  • Think of a favorite relative or friend. Think of a few ways you are the same (age, skin or hair color, favorite color, etc.) and a few ways you differ (gender or types of music you enjoy, for instance). Draw a picture of your friend or relative and you;
  • Watch the Book Trailer;
  • Look for some things that López includes in several illustrations, such as a ruler, books and bluebirds. Why do you think López includes these things? What do you think they mean?
  • Check out the Educator Guide (specific ideas about The Day You Begin appear on pp 4-5).

Why I Like this Book:

The Day You Begin is a lyrical exploration of a problem that plagues many young children and even adults: entering a room or joining a group when you feel different from others in one or more ways. As Woodson points out, this feeling can arise for many reasons. I think everyone will discover a reason that resonates with them. I particularly appreciate that Woodson reaches beyond appearance and athletic prowess and highlights language and socio-economic differences, among many others.

But Woodson doesn’t just point out the uneasy feelings. She also shows how, with bravery, you will find that when you “share your stories” you’ll discover some similarities among new friends who have “something a little like you” and something “fabulously not quite like you”. This acknowledgement of our individual gifts celebrates the uniqueness of individuals and the contributions everyone makes to the group or community. That stories and books run through The Day You Begin makes it extra special.

López’ multi-media illustrations are vibrant and joyful, bringing Woodson’s text to life. I especially appreciated how he pictured one boy alone in a right-hand spread dominated by a beige, rather lifeless background while the facing spread includes smiling children playing in a colorful, lush school yard. I think even young children will see immediately that this young boy feels alone and different. López also includes in many spreads gorgeous flowers and greenery that help show how the characters are feeling.

A Note about Craft:

The text of The Day You Begin began with a line from Woodson’s Newbery Honor novel in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014) that refers to the courage of her great-grandfather. That line, A moment when you walk into a room and no one there is like you” is altered slightly to become the opening line of The Day You Begin. I love how Woodson reaches back into her family history and her past work to give life to this line in a setting for younger readers.

When I first read the title, The Day You Begin, and saw the pensive face on the cover, I thought the book was focused solely on that feeling of dread when you encounter a new situation or group. But I realize now that the title also refers to the day you overcome your fears, when you realize that you have stories to tell and that you are a unique and wonderful person. I love that the title can have both of these meanings.

Read López’ blog post that shares many interior spreads and includes his thoughts on illustrating Woodson’s text.

Visit Woodson’s website to learn more about this award-winning author and 2018-19 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Visit López’ website to see more of his illustrations and artwork. And see also my review of Bravo!: Poems about Amazing Hispanics, a book that López illustrated and that would be a wonderful read for National Hispanic Heritage Month.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Books list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!