Alice Cary

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor called Constance Baker Motley “one of my favorite people,” and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg credited Motley with showing her and others of her generation “that law and courts could become positive forces in achieving our nation’s highest aspiration.” However, far too few Americans know Motley’s name or her legacy, and that dearth of recognition struck Harvard professor Tomiko Brown-Nagin as “a kind of historical malpractice.” She hopes to right this wrong with her meticulously researched, fascinating biography, Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality.

The fact that Motley became such a civil rights legend is ironic, given that her father said he “couldn’t stand American blacks.” Her mother, meanwhile, advised Motley to become a hairdresser. Regal, stately and tall, Motley was born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1921 to parents who had emigrated from the Caribbean island of Nevis. Despite her family’s poverty, she was raised to think of herself as “superior to others—to African Americans in particular.” Nonetheless, living in the shadow of Yale University, she received an excellent education and developed an intense interest in racial inequality. In the end, Motley spent her life trying to improve “the lives of the very people [her father] had spent a lifetime castigating.”

Motley’s trailblazing career included work as a lawyer, politician and federal judge, and at every stage of her incredible journey, readers will feel as though they have a backstage pass. Brown-Nagin excels at packing in intriguing minute details while still making them easily understood, as well as at contextualizing each scene historically. Thurgood Marshall became Motley’s mentor on the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and she played a crucial role in litigating Brown v. Board of Education. The sweep of history Motley inhabited is full of many such significant moments: visiting the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in jail in Georgia; serving as James Meredith’s lawyer as he fought for admission to the University of Mississippi; having a heated televised debate with Malcolm X and more. She was the first Black woman to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing 10 cases and winning nine of them. Later, she was the first Black woman to become a New York state senator, as well as the first Black woman appointed to the federal judiciary.

While Motley’s storied career is precisely explored, readers may still feel at arm’s length from the woman herself. This may be due to the fact that Motley was a notably reserved woman, although by all accounts warm and engaging. As Brown-Nagin explains, Motley cultivated an “unperturbable demeanor out of the often unfriendly, if not downright hostile, environments she encountered as a result of being a first. Through these qualities, she protected herself; only a select few could peek behind her mask.”

Motley spent years paving the way for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and later as a judge, she helped implement it in a variety of areas. Civil Rights Queen is the unforgettable story of a legal pioneer who changed the course of history, superbly elucidated by Brown-Nagin.

Harvard professor Tomiko Brown-Nagin finally gives Constance Baker Motley, a legal pioneer who steered the civil rights movement, the recognition she deserves.

Mirror Girls blends historical fiction and horror to tell the story of Charlie and Magnolia, biracial twin sisters separated at birth after their parents’ murder, and the unforeseen consequences of their unlikely reunion 17 years later.

Author Kelly McWilliams spoke to BookPage about the deeply personal experiences that inform the novel and what it’s like to write what scares you.

Can you introduce us to Charlie and Magnolia?
Magnolia has been raised to believe she’s a white Southern belle, with no knowledge of her racial heritage. When her grandmother admits the truth on her deathbed, Magnolia’s reflection suddenly disappears from every mirror: She’s unmoored after the loss of her self-conception.

Charlie begins the story in New York City, living with her Black grandmother. It’s the dawn of the civil rights movement, and she dreams of being a protester and fighting for justice. But then her grandmother falls ill and wants to be buried in the place she was born: the rural town of Eureka, Georgia, where Magnolia still lives on an old plantation.

So, at the start of the story, both girls have just lost crucial aspects of their identities. Charlie has lost her life in New York, where it was safer (though not fully safe!) for her to defy the racist status quo. Magnolia, in turn, is reeling from the revelation that despite her skin tone, she’s not, in fact, white. Both girls desperately need to find each other in order to construct a new, mixed-race identity from the ashes of their old lives.

You’ve said that your debut novel, Agnes at the End of the World, was inspired by a dream you had. How did Mirror Girls begin?
Mirror Girls is more personal than Agnes, and I think I’ve been making my way toward writing that story for a long time—possibly decades. I grew up in a mixed-race family, and families like mine always have to fight to be seen as family. I can’t tell you how many times people challenged the fact that my brother and I were blood related, just because our skin tone is different. Mixed-race families have to affirm their existence over and over to a society that often chooses not to reflect us. This story was inspired by my own childhood, my own life.

“I grew up in a mixed-race family, and families like mine always have to fight to be seen as family.”

I was also inspired by the photographs of twin sisters Marcia and Millie Briggs, who made the news as infants because one baby presented as white (complete with red hair) and the other as Black. While I found these sisters sweet and inspiring, I recognized that the world was quite puzzled and uneasily fascinated by their existence. The subtext was: What does race even mean if twins can be born with such different racial presentations? And I thought, well, I know the answer to that! In order to survive a world that is still inhospitable to mixed-race families, I had to learn the answer to reconciling my own identity, and it was hard. That journey to self-acceptance felt like a story worth telling.

Mirror Girls has quite a few excellent names for both people and places. How do you find the right names?
For the most part, I just wait for names to come to me—and I know in my gut when I’ve found the right one. Sometimes it’s instant; other times it takes months.

I struggled mightily with the name of the plantation in the book for one horrible reason: There are so, so many plantations that still stand in the South, if only as historical destinations or people’s inherited homes, that I kept imagining names that had an analog in real life, which wasn’t ideal. I probably Googled 10 different names (many ending in –wood) until I found one that didn’t already belong to some plantation somewhere. It gives you a sense of the devastating scale of slavery to have that particular problem.

Both of your novels feature sisters as co-narrators. What elements of sisterhood did you want to explore in Mirror Girls that you didn’t touch on in Agnes? Do you see any commonalities between the two pairs of sisters in each of your books?
I’ll be honest: When I wrote Agnes, I wasn’t quite ready to take on the subject of mixed-race identity. It was too raw and personal for me at that moment in my life. Nevertheless, in that earlier novel, Agnes and Beth also lose their received identities—as oppressed members of a fundamentalist cult—and must fight to claim a new life and to redefine themselves. Part of that journey means understanding each other as sisters, despite their radically different temperaments and despite the fact that, while Agnes escapes the cult, Beth initially chooses to stay.

Charlie and Magnolia fight a parallel battle in the land of Jim Crow, which frankly has always seemed to me much like a malignant cult. In a cult, oppressive leaders tear down their members, trying to bend them to their will. During Jim Crow, Black people were told that we’re second-class citizens, that we don’t deserve what white folks have. Jim Crow explicitly targeted the Black sense of self, trying to force us to accept a damaged reflection of ourselves. To survive, Magnolia and Charlie must affirm, over and over again, their own worth—but they can’t do it alone. Their sisterhood, across class and the color line, becomes a key piece of their identity. Family and familial love is the greatest antidote to a world that insists, at the top of its lungs, that Black girls don’t count and don’t matter.

In addition to exploring sisterhood, Mirror Girls also dives deep into daughters, mothers and grandmothers, and the ways each generation’s actions ripple outward and affect future generations. What drew you to exploring these ideas in this story?
Every Black family in America suffers from intergenerational trauma, especially along our maternal lines. I heard somewhere that 95% of Black Americans are direct descendants of enslaved people, and the crux of chattel slavery as an institution was the separation of children from their mothers on the auction block. That’s an ever-present truth, an inherited cultural memory for every Black mother.

“Family and familial love is the greatest antidote to a world that insists, at the top of its lungs, that Black girls don’t count and don’t matter.”

But intergenerational trauma also takes very personal forms. On the day I was born in a hospital in Maryland, my mother was recovering from a cesarean section when a nurse took me for a checkup. My mother is obviously Black, but I’m extremely light. That nurse didn’t bring me back to my mother; they brought her a Black baby boy instead! Despite our identifying wristbands, that nurse just could not believe that we belonged together. My mother injured herself hollering in the hallway for me, and that story became a huge part of our family identity. In fact, when I gave birth, I remembered what had happened to my mother and worried that if my daughter’s skin tone didn’t match mine, there’d be trouble. It’s a terrible thing to fear that the world will deny your family their basic right to be a family.

Of course, terrible things happen to Black mothers in hospitals every single day, considering the horrible mortality rate. I firmly believe that every bit of maternal suffering causes intergenerational trauma down the line. Grandmothers, mothers and daughters bear so much of that pain. But we also tell the stories that help us to make sense of those traumas. It’s our heritage, and it’s also what we must pass down to help our descendants survive.

Mirror Girls is set in Georgia in 1953, with lots of references to Charlie’s life in Harlem. What sort of research did you do for the book? Were you able to do any travel- or interview-based research?
While deciding on a setting, I read Remembering Jim Crow: African-Americans Tell About Life in the Segregated South, which is a collection of oral histories. Hearing those voices, I knew I would set the story during this time of struggle, when survival depended in part on Black folks’ own belief in their self-worth. At this time, elders worked so hard to imbue Black children, who were looked down upon by white society, with a sense of pride.

What I really loved about those oral histories, though, was the amazing specificity. Who knew that Coca-Cola once advertised itself in the South for being a “whites-only” drink in some states? And the segregated water fountains just came up over and over as a source of humiliation. It was really a deep laceration to the soul, to be segregated in those mundane ways.

I had desperately hoped to get down South for this project, but the pandemic prevented me from traveling. I did reach out to a sensitivity reader from the South to help with my understanding of the place.

As for interviews, I guess I did sort of interview my own family! We have a family legend that our last enslaved ancestor, a grandmother, walked off a Georgia plantation after emancipation, which is why I set the story there. Black families have long memories, but you do sometimes have to specifically ask the elders in your life to tell them. There’s quite a bit that the older generation often keeps to themselves because the stories are so painful to speak out loud.

I loved the book’s references to three real-life figures: Caleb Hill, Walter White and Ella Baker. Why was including each of these figures important to you and to the story?
My book is in part about an imagined lynching, that of Charlie and Magnolia’s parents. I included Caleb Hill’s name and tragic fate because it’s so important that we remember that lynchings really happened, en masse, in the real world. Caleb Hill died at a time when New York’s NAACP headquarters was keeping very careful track of Southern lynchings, so it was also the exact type of event that would have formed a bridge between the South and New York at the time. Northern brothers and sisters never stopped decrying Southern brutalities, and lynchings especially.

“Knowledge is power, and feeling empowered leads to feeling less scared, in the end.”

As for Ella Baker, she’s Charlie’s role model, because she’s not only an activist, she’s also a leader in a sexist time. I imagine Charlie following in her footsteps.

Finally, as I’m a woman light enough to pass for white, Walter Francis White is perhaps my very favorite historical figure of all time. Naturally, he becomes Magnolia’s as well, as she’s establishing her identity as a biracial person. Walter White could easily pass, but he chose not to. This brother had blond hair and blue eyes! In his early years, he acted as a sort of spy, investigating Southern lynchings for the NAACP. He put himself in grave danger pretending to be white to extract information from murderers. There’s a story that, at one point, he had to jump onto a moving train to save his own life. I just love that though he could have chosen the easy way out—pretending to be white to further his own opportunities—he dedicated his life to the Black community. And he used his light-skinned privilege to do something good for others.

Your first book combined the “cult escape” narrative with a pandemic story, and Mirror Girls seamlessly blends historical fiction and horror. What do you enjoy about stirring different genres together? Are there other genres you’d love to combine in the future?
I love to stir up genres, and I think it’s because I genuinely feel that life is too messy to be captured by one genre alone. There’s also a tension that two distinct genres place on each other that leads to fruitful and interesting narratives. Genre mashups also help you to avoid writing plot points that are too cliché.

I do have some combos I hope to write one day! One is a Western combined with a spy novel (actually based on the life of Walter White), but my next project is a single genre: a contemporary social satire. Genre mashups, while rewarding, are hard to pull off, and I need a short break!

In an interview, you once said that you tend to write what scares you. Do you ever have to take a break from writing because you’ve scared yourself? What makes you feel brave?
The things that scare me exist in the real world: patriarchy, white supremacy and racism, and I’m thinking about and dealing with them every single day. In a weird way, writing about those things is itself my break from the awfulness of reality. Writing what scares you is oddly therapeutic, the way nightmares are. I have to work through my thoughts about these heavy topics in order to stay grounded in my real life. It’s like a very demanding form of self-care.

When I’m finished with a book, I’ve usually worked out some of the troubles in my own head and squared my thoughts on these heavy topics and how we should respond to them. Knowledge is power, and feeling empowered leads to feeling less scared, in the end.

What will you take away from the writing of this book?
When I was in middle school, I struggled to look into mirrors, because I just could not square the racial identity that I hold so dear with my own light face. By the time I hit my 20s, mirrors and I were on better terms, but in another, deeper way, I was still avoiding a certain type of mirror: my own writing. I did not write about white passing or light-skinned existence or the struggles of mixed families. Or, I suppose, I was writing about those things, but they were extremely sublimated.

Now, in my 30s, I finally feel strong enough to write more explicitly from my own personal experience. It’s been absolutely revelatory. I’ve never felt so at peace with my own racial ambiguity, and I’m finally beginning to process and even speak about the core traumas of my mixed childhood. My book is dedicated to mirror girls of every color, everywhere—and come to think of it, that includes me.

Read our starred review of ‘Mirror Girls.’

Author photo of Kelly McWilliams courtesy of Black Forest Photography.

Author Kelly McWilliams talks about the deeply personal experiences that shaped Mirror Girls and what it’s like to write what scares you.

A haunted, decaying mansion. A cemetery that’s being disinterred. Dead souls that seem to come back to life and beckon to teenage twin sisters separated at birth. These are just a few of the wonderfully mysterious elements in Mirror Girls, Kelly McWilliams’ second YA novel.

As if slowly building terror and suspense weren’t enough, the book is also an exceptional work of historical fiction set in 1953 Eureka, Georgia. McWilliams’ genre blending works remarkably well, although perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise, since the days of segregation and lynchings were a horror show. What better way to confront this era than with a horror story?

As in McWilliams’ first book, Agnes at the End of the World, two sisters narrate Mirror Girls. Charlie and Magnolia are born in 1936 to Marie, who is Black, and Dean, the wealthy white heir to Heathwood Plantation. Their young parents are murdered as they drive north to be married, leaving behind their infant daughters. Marie’s mother takes darker-skinned Charlie to live in Harlem, where she becomes a civil rights activist. Meanwhile, Dean’s mother raises light-skinned Magnolia as a privileged white Southern belle in their crumbling plantation. The girls have no idea about each other’s existence until Charlie brings her dying Nana back to Eureka, setting the plot explosively in motion.

Author Kelly McWilliams reveals why she’s drawn to writing what scares her.

Once Magnolia learns that she is Black, she realizes that she will have to choose between continuing to live a lie or embracing her heritage as well as her twin sister. Her choice becomes a matter of life and death: After Grandmother Heathwood dies, Magnolia is unable to eat, drink or see her own reflection in a mirror. This is an effective device; as Charlie notes, “It never ceases to haunt me—the unpredictable ways colored folk are reflected in a white eye.”

McWilliams is an excellent stage manager, pacing the action well and keeping the stakes high. The sisters’ alternating voices immerse readers in what life was like during Jim Crow for both white and Black people, and Magnolia’s emerging consciousness is especially well done. A few characters, including Grandmother Heathwood and Magnolia’s beau, Finch, sometimes seem stereotypical; however, even they ultimately have a few surprises up their sleeves.

Mirror Girls is a spine-tingling, empowering look at justice and civil action that urges readers to be aware, to be true to themselves and to take action. As Magnolia observes, “As twin sisters, white and Black, we are a symbol of coming victory. A promise of change.”

Read our Q&A with Kelly McWilliams.

This story of biracial twin sisters separated at birth and the reckoning that comes when they reunite is a remarkable blend of historical fiction and horror.

History lives and breathes, not only within us but also as we uncover new ways to see and understand the past. These picture books introduce young readers to fresh, vital perspectives on Black history.

★ Born on the Water

Readers are in for a sweeping history lesson that spans centuries in The 1619 Project: Born on the Water, an illuminating extension of the educational movement begun at the New York Times Magazine in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and Newbery Honor author Renée Watson begin this exquisite book with a framing story about a Black girl who receives a school assignment to trace her family’s roots and feels ashamed that she can go back only three generations. Upon hearing this, her grandmother gathers the whole family to explain their heritage, starting with their ancestors in West Central Africa. “Ours is no immigration story,” she says. In a series of free verse poems with titles like “They Had a Language,” “Stolen,” “Tobacco Fields” and “Legacy,” the authors convey not only facts but also feeling, a powerful mixture of pride, joy, tragedy, sorrow, perseverance and triumph.

Nikkolas Smith’s visceral illustrations bring all of these emotions to life, starting with joyous scenes of families living in the kingdom of Ndongo, “their bodies a song under open sky and bright sun.” These pages burst with the colors of turquoise waters and grassy fields of gold and green beneath warm, sunlit skies. The images are a wonderful gift to readers, offering a sense of what life was like before enslavement.

With the suddenness of a single page turn, life changes cataclysmically as these ancestors are kidnapped from their homeland and imprisoned aboard a ship called the White Lion. Shadowy illustrations convey the brutality that follows: an empty, ransacked village; people in chains forced onto a ship; faces filled with sadness and fear. One image shows a person who has jumped overboard, and Grandma explains that their ancestors are those who survived the terrible journey: “We were born on the water. We come from the people who refused to die.”

Grandma’s history continues to the fields of Virginia, where a baby named William Tucker becomes the first Black child born in the new land, and on across centuries of resistance and achievement. “Never forget you come from a people of great strength,” Grandma says. “Be proud of our story, your story.”

Born on the Water is a triumph and a history lesson that every child needs to learn.

★ A History of Me

“I was the only brown person in class,” begins the young narrator of Adrea Theodore and Erin K. Robinson’s A History of Me. She feels the eyes of her classmates on her back whenever their teacher discusses slavery and civil rights. “I wanted to slide out of my seat and onto the floor and drift out the door,” she admits. Even worse, a bully taunts her after school, “If it wasn’t for Lincoln, you’d still be our slaves!”

In an author’s note, Theodore describes writing this debut picture book after learning that “some thirty years after I had attended elementary school, the way the subject of slavery was being taught was still causing harm to young black and brown children.” As the narrator of A History of Me shares her experiences in history class, she also reflects on the lives of the women in her family, including her great-great-grandmother, who was enslaved, and her mother, who spent part of her childhood in the Jim Crow South. “And so I should be grateful to go to school and learn,” the narrator says repeatedly, but it’s clear that her feelings are more complicated than simple gratitude.

Illustrator Robinson skillfully illuminates the book’s many strands of history. The narrator’s historical musings appear in sepia tones, while contemporary scenes leap off the page in vivid colors, adding a dose of energy to the tale. The narrator is a quietly thoughtful force to be reckoned with. Her piercing eyes often gaze directly at readers, and she faces down the bully with her head high, striding purposefully down the sidewalk past him.

The book concludes as the narrator discusses growing up and having a daughter of her own. A wonderful spread shows her daughter reaching triumphantly toward the sky, surrounded by a sunburst of rainbow color and empowered with the knowledge “that she is free to be anything she wants to be.”

“What happens when you are proud of where you come from?” asks Theodore in her author’s note. A History of Me is a moving reminder of what we gain when we draw strength and inspiration from the past.

Through stories of triumph and pride, two picture books challenge widely held notions about the history of African Americans.

At age 14, Smita Agarwal and her family were forced to leave Mumbai after a horrifying incident of religious persecution. They immigrated to Ohio, and now, 20 years later, Smita has grown up to become a world-traveling journalist who writes about gender issues. As Thrity Umrigar’s Honor opens, Smita is asked to cover an assignment in Mumbai—“the one place she had spent her entire adult life avoiding.” Readers will find themselves completely immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of India, a place that Smita acknowledges can be “cosmopolitan, sophisticated, but also resolutely out of step with the world.”

Similar to her central character, bestselling author Umrigar grew up in Bombay (now Mumbai) and immigrated to the United States at age 21. Ever since, she’s been writing “to make sense of the world and to make sense of my own, often contradictory emotions and feelings.” In this spirit, Honor is a multifaceted examination of Smita’s love-hate relationship with her native country, a place that fills her heart yet is besieged with assaults on women. As one character comments, “We Indians are in the Dark Ages when it comes to the treatment of women.”

That issue is thoroughly explored through the lens of Smita’s assignment: the case of Meena, a Hindu woman suing her brothers after they killed her Muslim husband and then burned and disfigured her. Smita travels to Meena’s remote village and befriends the impoverished woman and her toddler daughter. She interviews the brothers, the police and the village chief, who emboldened Meena’s brothers to commit their atrocities. While Meena and Smita live in completely different worlds, Smita increasingly realizes the parallels in their lives and in the ways they have been treated as Indian women.

Throughout the novel, Smita is escorted by a wealthy single man named Mohan, who adores his country and is eager to reintroduce its glories to his charge. She is resistant, however, and their constant tug-of-war about India’s pros and cons results in a well-rounded portrait of a complicated country.

Suspense deepens as Smita and Meena await the court verdict, and there’s a horrifying aftermath that seems largely avoidable. Not surprisingly, romance develops between Smita and Mohan, and the blend of passion alongside brutality sometimes makes for an uneasy mix. Nonetheless, readers are likely to remain engaged with the story and its well-drawn characters.

Whether she’s writing about the bright lights of Mumbai or the poverty of village life, Umrigar excels at creating engaging situations and scenes. Readers will appreciate this novel’s deep understanding of the many complexities of Indian society.

Thrity Umrigar’s novel offers a well-rounded portrait of India, a place that can be “cosmopolitan, sophisticated, but also resolutely out of step with the world.”

Trying to make new friends can feel like being lost in a blizzard! These picture books show how snowstorms can bring friends together in lots of wondrous ways.

Words to Make a Friend

Excitement permeates every page of Donna Jo Napoli and Naoko Stoop’s Words to Make a Friend: A Story in Japanese and English, a joyful ode to friendship between new neighbors.

As a Japanese girl and her family move into their home on a wintry day, the newcomer looks out her bedroom window and spots another girl who is outside playing. She quickly unpacks her snow gear and heads out to join her. The pair don’t let a language barrier get in their way, greeting each other with a “hello” and a “konnichiwa.” As they frolic in the flurries and build a snow monster together, they toss phrases back and forth like snowballs, trading “Let’s play!” for “Asobou!” and “shiver shiver” for “buru buru.” Napoli limits the text to a few carefully chosen words of dialogue like these, allowing the beauty of the snowstorm and the girls’ delight to speak for themselves as the story unfolds with natural momentum.

Stoop’s illustrations capture falling snow so exceptionally that readers will practically feel the frosty flakes falling onto their cold cheeks. Against this backdrop, the newcomer’s bright yellow boots and red coat and her new friend’s lilac parka and pink earmuffs pop wonderfully. The girls eventually go inside to warm up, enjoy a snack and try some origami. Their fun continues with such ease that a firm friendship seems bound to form.

Words to Make a Friend captures the energy of a budding bond and a swirling snow day, extolling the fun of exploring cultural differences while highlighting the curiosity that brings two strangers together and turns them into friends.

★ Friends Are Friends, Forever

In a story inspired by her own childhood move from China to North Carolina, author Dane Liu offers a lovely tribute to friendships old and new. Her writing is lyrical and detailed. “In our town, the winter howls,” the book opens. “Heavy flakes swarm and glaze the earth.” Indeed, a storm is brewing. Just before the Lunar New Year, Dandan informs her best friend, Yueyue, that she and her family are moving far away to America.

Dandan savors every moment of their annual traditions, knowing it’ll be the last time they’ll share them. There’s a festive meal featuring her grandmother Nainai’s dumplings, a fireworks display and the fun of a special art project. Dandan and Yueyue cut snowflakes out of red paper, dip them in water and freeze them overnight, then hang their ornaments from a tree the next morning. “Our best snowflakes yet,” Yueyue proclaims. “And my last,” Dandan says quietly.

Lynn Scurfield’s art begins with enchanting, vibrantly colored scenes of Dandan’s life in China: The best friends stroll down a snowy sidewalk, their expectant faces peer up at a stovetop where “vegetables skid around the wok,” and later, their farewell hug fills an entire spread with bittersweet emotion as Yueyue whispers, “Friends are friends, forever.” A wonderfully conveyed transition spread depicts a plane flying over a big globe, from China to the United States; in the background, daytime and nighttime skies represent the change in time zones. In America, Dandan’s days are besieged by loneliness and shades of gray. One especially evocative illustration shows her asleep in bed as jagged, scrawled English words cover the page, the strange new language haunting Dandan’s dreams.

After a low point, when Dandan’s classmates snicker at the satin dress she wears on her birthday, a freckle-faced friend named Christina emerges, and Dandan’s world slowly becomes lively and filled with color again. Liu brings the story full circle to the next Lunar New Year as the new friends celebrate with an old tradition and a parting gift from Yueyue. Scurfield cleverly unites old and new in a spread that depicts Dandan’s nightstand and her framed photo of her final embrace with Yueyue as, out her bedroom window, Dandan and Christina hang paper snowflakes from the branches of a tree.

While there are many children’s books about the difficulties of moving, Friends Are Friends, Forever is an especially well-crafted tale that explores the depth of old friendships, the loneliness of being a newcomer in a strange place and the beauty of new friends finding each other.

Birds on Wishbone Street

A girl named Moe wants to make the new boy feel welcome on Wishbone Street, a friendly neighborhood filled with families of many nationalities that’s based on a real street in Toronto. Sami, the new kid, has just arrived from Syria, while Moe’s father emigrated from Ireland when he was young. Initially, Moe feels shy about introducing herself. “Do I wave? Go say ‘hi’?” she wonders. “My head is a jumble of words, all shmushed-up together.”

A snowstorm and a shared love of birds soon bring Moe and Sami together. Moe’s dad brought his pet bird to America in a hollowed-out radio—based on a true story of author-illustrator Suzanne Del Rizzo’s father—while Sami’s family raised pigeons in Syria. When Moe and Sami discover a cardinal that has been stunned by the cold during the first blizzard of the season, they cement their friendship by trying to rescue the creature, taking it to a vet with help from a neighbor. Their actions spark a collective effort to help the neighborhood birds. Everyone pitches in to make suet treats and weave winter roosting pockets; Del Rizzo includes instructions for both at the end of the story.

Del Rizzo’s unique art adds dimension to the book’s warm, welcoming neighborhood scenes. She creates illustrations with polymer clay, acrylic glaze and other mixed media, giving depth and texture to each page. Snowflakes truly seem to float in the winter sky, and the blanket used to swaddle the cardinal has realistic folds and wrinkles.

Del Rizzo also excels at presenting a community full of many intertwined familial and social connections while capturing the smaller details of the developing friendship between Moe and Sami. She expertly balances the hustle and bustle of lively outdoor scenes with more intimate indoor moments, such as when the pair share their treasures with each other, including drawings of birds, special feathers and other trinkets. In a lovely touch, Del Rizzo depicts Moe’s and Sami’s collections of keepsakes on the book’s opening and closing endpapers.

Birds on Wishbone Street is a bighearted book that will leave readers eager to discover the many treasures that new friendships hold.

Three picture books capture the magic of snow—and friendship.

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