This holiday season, or any time of the year, it's wonderful to find picture books that share uplifting messages for young readers. Many picture books, fiction and nonfiction, allow young readers to think about issues such as fairness, inclusion, and just that it's okay to be different. Here are some really thoughtful books that will open children's horizons in wonderful ways.
"That is My Dream!" by Langston Hughes and Daniel Miyares is a picture book that brings to life the poem "Dream Variations" by celebrated African-American poet/artist Langston Hughes. The first half of the poem and the book illustrate the harsh reality of life during the time of segregation, a time when Langston Hughes experienced prejudice and discrimination all around. But the second half of the poem is the "dream," where black and white can mingle and be together. The second half of the poem mirrors the first half, and while the words are subtly different, it's the thoughtful illustrations that make the story behind the poem clear -- the story of segregation and the dream of equality and love. (Schwartz & Wade)
"My Friend Maggie" by Hannah E. Harrison is the very sweet -- and then not-so-sweet -- story of Paula, a beaver, and Maggie, the sweet huge elephant. Paula narrates the story and tells the readers why she and Maggie are best friends. They enjoy life together, and their antics will make readers smile until Veronica decides to lure Paula into her circle of friends by denigrating Maggie. Maggie's clothes are too tight and she's clumsy -- both of which are true but don't do justice to Maggie's wonderful nature and sunny disposition. Paula goes to the dark side and breaks Maggie's heart. Maggie is ignored and alone, lonely and sad. But when Veronica decides to make Paula her target, Maggie's true colors shine. This is a great choice for classroom reading and would also be a fabulous choice for a school social worker or psychologist to read when bullying is going on. It's a thoughtful read for children as it will definitely make them think about being inclusive and how cruelty can affect others. (Dial Books for Young Readers)
"Sparkle Boy" by Lesléa Newman is illustrated by Maria Mola and tells the story of a young boy who loves sparkles just as much as his older sister does. When she doesn't think boys should wear sparkly nail polish or sparkly skirts, Casey's understanding parents let him wear what he wants, much to his older sister's chagrin. But when someone makes fun of Casey for his sartorial choices, his sister changes. This is a touching story of a child who isn't like other children and whose family is supportive and understanding. It's about accepting others for who they are and not who we expect or perhaps want them to be. Read the full review here. (Lee & Low Books)
"Princess Hair" by Sharee Miller is a lovely picture book that celebrates diversity and the different hair and hair styles of African-American girls. With the news of a future bi-racial princess in Great Britain, this is a perfect book to celebrate hair that may be black, is not straight, and is certainly not boring. In this brightly illustrated book filled with the color pink and lots of crowns, the princesses with dreadlocks love to draw while princesses with kinks love to think. They all are busy reading, dancing, singing, napping and baking, all princesses with different skin colors, different hair styles, and all enjoying and loving life in their own hair-raising way. The last page explains, "Not every princess has the same hair, but every princess LOVES her princess hair." This is a perfect book for young girls, but especially girls who might not be happy with their hair because it's different from the hair that they see on others. (Little, Brown and Company)
"The World Is Not a Rectangle: A Portrait of Architect Zaha Hadid" by Jeanette Winter celebrates an award-winning woman born in Iraq who became a famous architect in spite of those who scorned her creative and different-looking drawings for buildings. Hadid was inspired by scenes from her childhood, rivers and marshes and sand dunes. She saw that nature abhors a right angle, and after she graduated with a degree in architecture, her designs were based on images from nature. Although she won awards, it took years for her buildings to be built. She is a perfect example of perseverance -- Hadid never gave up, and her buildings were eventually both built and appreciated. (Beach Lane Books)
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover books provided by the publishers for review purposes.