Julie Danielson

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In the opening pages of Listen, a girl stands on her front porch, her backpack resting squarely on her shoulders. She is surrounded by the din of the city. “When you step out into the big, wild world, sometimes all you hear is . . . NOISE!” narrates an encouraging second-person voice. The girl follows the text’s advice to “stop, close your eyes, and LISTEN,” harnessing her attention to single out each individual sound as she walks. She hears a dog yipping at a car, a crow squawking on a power line, a teakettle whistling from an open window, gravel crunching under feet and much, much more. 

Once she arrives at school, the girl puts her active listening skills to work in new ways. When she overhears her classmate subjected to “words that sting,” the girl listens for “a sob, a sigh, or even silence” so that she can empathize and offer comfort. Finally, back home at the end of the day, the girl sits and listens to her breath as the text reminds readers to “hear the voice inside you.” 

Author Gabi Snyder’s engaging text speaks directly to readers, offering instruction as well as questions. “Can you hear ‘hello’ called across the playground?” she asks. The book’s back matter explores the difference between listening and hearing and the various types of responses we have to sound, such as the startle response. 

Illustrator Stephanie Graegin’s carefully composed, well-balanced spreads convey the busyness and bustle of the city while avoiding visual clutter. A soothing, cool blue dominates the color palette and provides a relaxing visual throughline for readers. 

The book’s design elements also work to support its theme. An appealing orange font emphasizes all the sounds depicted in the girl’s day, and the endpapers contain a series of small drawings that represent the sources of those sounds, such as a moving van and a boy practicing the trumpet. 

Listen is a gentle invitation to pause, close your eyes and appreciate every sound. It’s a welcome breath of fresh air. 

In the opening pages of Listen, a girl stands on her front porch, her backpack resting squarely on her shoulders. She is surrounded by the din of the city.

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Red-haired, inquisitive Roberta is a budding entomologist. “I rescue tiny creatures,” she tells readers on the first spread. “It’s a special job.” While her classmates play during recess, she’s bent over a minuscule creature on the ground. She knows that such creatures sometimes need help, even imagining herself at one point in a superhero’s red cape. In reality, however, many of her classmates point and laugh at her: “Roberta has been picking up worms again!”

But one day, Roberta comes to the rescue. The entire class, plus the teacher, huddles in fear over some baby spiders crawling up the wall. Roberta directs everyone to follow her friend Maria’s instructions for folding origami boxes, then helps them guide the “hundreds of stripy specks” into the boxes so they can be carried to safety outside. 

Curtis Manley’s bighearted story gracefully captures the experiences of quiet, observant, inquisitive children—those who may not be found in the midst of a big crowd at school but who are considerately looking out for those on the periphery. Lucy Ruth Cummins’ brightly colored illustrations depict a series of Roberta’s rescues both at home and at school. We read about her “easy” saves and the ones that seem “impossible.” We also read about rescue attempts in which Roberta didn’t make it in time. She keeps these creatures (a butterfly, a beetle and a bee) so that she can appreciate their beauty, even in death, with her microscope. 

The book concludes with charming back matter: a guide to “Roberta’s favorite tiny creatures worth rescuing” and instructions for creating “Maria’s origami box with lockable lid.” Tender and sensitive, much like its protagonist, The Rescuer of Tiny Creatures will encourage readers to get outside and be on the lookout for vulnerable new friends. 

Red-haired, inquisitive Roberta is a budding entomologist. “I rescue tiny creatures,” she tells readers on the first spread. “It’s a special job.”

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Poor Mouse. She lives with Cat, and needless to say, there are . . . problems. As Andrew Prahin’s Ship in a Bottle opens, Cat stalks Mouse in a series of very funny vignettes: “Mouse wanted to eat gingersnaps. Cat wanted to eat Mouse. Mouse wanted to enjoy the ship in a bottle. Cat wanted to eat Mouse.” In each image, Cat is always around the corner, eyes wide, a consummate predator. 

One day, Mouse takes her living situation into her own hands. She slips into the ship in a bottle and blows Cat a raspberry. Cat angrily shoves the bottle out the window and into the water below, and suddenly Mouse is free. So begins Mouse’s journey over land and water to find a safer home. Yet her “exceptionally pleasant” and peaceful adventure soon becomes distressful, thanks to selfish, cookie-obsessed rabbits, hungry seagulls and a huge, scary storm. Fortunately for Mouse, she eventually finds some kind new neighbors. 

Prahin masters the story’s execution on every level. He knows when to make the text short and clipped with perfectly dry comic pacing (“Cat wanted to lie in the sun. And eat Mouse.”) and when it should flow with rich imagery: “Near dawn, Mouse looked out upon an expanse of quiet trees and grass nestled among the towering buildings.” Prahin’s palette practically sparkles with warm, lemony yellows and carnation pinks juxtaposed against the sage shades of Mouse’s fur and the surface of the river. The dappled light on the water at the start of Mouse’s journey is particularly striking. All of the creatures’ body language and droll facial expressions (especially single-minded Cat) are entertainingly spot-on. 

Mouse’s persistence pays off in more ways than one, making this a satisfying story for anyone who, like Mouse, has “dreamed of a better life.”

Poor Mouse. She lives with Cat, and needless to say, there are . . . problems.

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A softhearted, cyan-colored creature, Yeti really stands out in a crowd—the crowd of monsters, that is, who populate the world of prolific author Kelly DiPucchio’s Not Yeti, illustrated by Claire Keane. While the other monsters are domineering, loud and rude, Yeti is quiet and considerate. He has kind words for the weeds, sings to the humpback whales, crochets sweaters for penguins and tells knock-knock jokes to the trees. He also tries his best to befriend the other monsters, who think he’s an oddity. 

Midway through the narrative, DiPucchio pauses for a flashback to a time when Yeti’s behavior was “abominable,” which Keane depicts in a series of panels that give the impression of worn photographs. This earlier version of Yeti may have been ill-mannered, but he woke up one day and made a conscious choice that “he liked making things . . . more than he liked breaking things”—even if meant spending a lot of his time alone. Observant readers will notice that a small, two-eyed monster in a dress appears in many spreads and seems to be watching Yeti’s acts of kindness. She makes her devotion to Yeti clear at the book’s festive closing.

In Keane’s illustrations, Yeti is affable and rosy cheeked. His facial expressions and body language differ markedly from the other monsters, who are rowdy and mischievous. (One even breathes fire.) Keane’s rounded, relaxed linework ensures that none of the monsters are ever truly frightening, and her palette is dominated by appealing soft lavender, rose and turquoise hues. 

Not Yeti is a sweet tale for anyone who’s ever realized the bright side of not fitting in. The world may be full of monsters, but Yeti isn’t one of them, and readers will be happy to get to know him. 

A softhearted, cyan-colored creature, Yeti really stands out in a crowd—the crowd of monsters, that is, who populate the world of prolific author Kelly DiPucchio’s Not Yeti, illustrated by Claire Keane.

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Wishes begins as a mother and her three children pack in the middle of the night. They say a tearful goodbye to the family members who will remain behind, then wait in a long line to board a small boat for a perilous journey across the ocean. They survive crowded conditions, hard winds and rain, the turbulent sea and the searing sun, all in the hope of a new life.

Author Mượn Thị Văn structures this tale as a poetic series of wishes made by one of the children. As the girl watches her family pack food into a yellow knapsack, she imagines that “the bag wished it was deeper.” As a storm tosses the tiny boat, “the sea wished it was calmer.” The child herself holds dear a poignant and heart-rending wish: “And I wished . . . I didn’t have to wish . . . anymore.” This wish is revealed over the course of four spreads set against a brightening sky as a large vessel spots their boat, welcomes its passengers aboard and takes them to the shoreline of a grand, gleaming city.

Victo Ngai’s illustrations do much of the heavy lifting here, extending Văn’s spare, lyrical text in concrete, cinematic ways. Ngai doesn’t hold back, never once shying away from the journey’s traumatic elements. Sorrow, fear, distress, life-threatening danger: It’s all here. One spread, drenched in washes of red, puts readers right on the boat as people cling to one another, the narrator embracing her family with tears in her eyes. “The heart wished it was stronger,” Văn writes.

A closing note reveals that this powerful story is personal for Văn. As a child, she left her grandfather behind and traveled with the rest of her family from southern Vietnam to a refugee camp in Hong Kong, eventually settling in the United States.

This rich and nuanced tale illuminates the closely held wishes of refugees the world over. It’s unforgettable.

Wishes begins as a mother and her three children pack in the middle of the night. They say a tearful goodbye to the family members who will remain behind, then wait in a long line to board a small boat for a perilous journey across the ocean.

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The Night Walk opens with a mother’s tantalizing invitation to her two children: “Wake up. . . . Let’s go, so we get there on time.” It’s the middle of the night, but the sleepy children get ready for an adventurous journey to an unknown destination. Perfectly paced page turns capture the family’s trek and the wonders that await in the world after nightfall. Therein lies the joy of this picture book: Both the journey and the destination are delightful.

One of the children narrates as the family walks with all senses on alert. They hear crickets chirping and a train “slicing through the darkness.” The narrator notices not just the train’s “shrieking” wheels but also the “still silence” that follows its departure. They smell honeysuckle on the air, feel the lingering warmth of the pavement and notice glowing lights inside buildings. The big hotel gleams “bright like a chandelier,” while the last house in their village has “one eye open,” an upstairs window aglow.

When they leave their village behind to enter a “whispering forest,” Dorléans’ mastery of language (with superb work from translator Polly Lawson) is especially apparent. Her sensory details are remarkable and vivid. “The earth was damp,” she writes, and “the bark smelled comforting.” A palette of dusky, spectral blues envelops the family on their journey, interrupted only by pops of pale yellow from bedside lamps, porch lights, flashlights, the train’s headlights and the moon. When they finally reach the summit of a mountainous slope, the expansive vista and the revelation of their ultimate objective is breathtaking.

Never hurried, this eloquent story is a beautifully measured tale not unlike one giant inhale (the journey) followed by a long, happy exhale (the closing spreads). Pick up a copy and make a night of it.

The Night Walk opens with a mother’s tantalizing invitation to her two children: “Wake up. . . . Let’s go, so we get there on time.” It’s the middle of the night, but the sleepy children get ready for an adventurous journey to an unknown destination.

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A girl and her abuela find an injured bird, bring it home and nurse it back to health in this unassuming tale. Inspired by one of Blanca Gómez’s own childhood experiences, Bird House is quietly delightful as it depicts an act of true kindness.

The girl narrates with gentle pacing from the moment the pair first notices the sunny yellow bird on a snowy day. After Abuela mends the bird’s wounded leg, they release it from its cage and allow it to fly around the living room. Their pet cat seems especially curious about the new guest. When the bird has fully recovered, they set it free, but it returns after the snow melts and spring arrives. “Abuela, can we keep it?” the girl asks. “No, darling, the bird doesn’t belong to us,” Abuela tells her.

Gómez reduces the story to its essentials, both verbally and visually. There are no feats of linguistic acrobatics; the text is plain-spoken and conveyed in short sentences: “It was fantastic,” we read as the girl watches the bird fly around the living room. Yet a sweet but never cloying tenderness pervades the story. The girl treasures the time she spends with her grandmother, observing that “everything was always fantastic at Abuela’s house.”

In spacious, uncluttered spreads, Gomez’s textured paper-collage illustrations contrast muted colors, such as Abuela’s charcoal gray cardigan and the powder blue of her tiled bathroom wall, against bright reds and yellows found in the furniture and living room floor. As spring arrives, gloomy winter makes way for the vivid greens of the plants on Abuela’s back porch. This is a story that breathes, and its artwork exudes a simple, timeless charm.

A girl and her abuela find an injured bird, bring it home and nurse it back to health in this unassuming tale. Inspired by one of Blanca Gómez’s own childhood experiences, Bird House is quietly delightful as it depicts an act of true kindness.

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Author Andrea Wang’s childhood memory of picking watercress by the side of the road serves as the inspiration for this emotional powerhouse of a picture book, which she describes in an author’s note as “both an apology and a love letter” to her parents. 

Riding with her family in an old Pontiac, a Chinese American girl describes the embarrassing moment when her parents stop the car to enthusiastically pick bunches of watercress growing in a ditch near the road. Dinner that night includes the watercress, served with garlic, but the girl refuses to eat. When her mother reminds her the meal is free, the girl withdraws further: “Free is hand-me-down clothes and roadside trash-heap furniture and now, dinner from a ditch.” 

Her mother responds by leaving the table to find a childhood photo and sharing, for the first time, the story of her own brother, who died as a boy during a famine in China. After hearing this story, the girl feels remorse for being ashamed of her family, a moment that Wang captures with care and subtlety. 

Wang’s writing is tender and detailed, describing the watercress as “delicate and slightly bitter, like Mom’s memories of home.” With raw honesty, the book’s first-person narration allows readers to see through the girl’s eyes. We experience both the sting of her shame and her newfound understanding alongside her. 

Caldecott Honor illustrator Jason Chin’s soft, expressive watercolors lean on sepia tones, an appropriate choice for a tale that serves as a recollection of memory. Along with depicting the self-conscious girl with a photorealistic eloquence, Chin incorporates occasional images of the mother’s memories of her life in China. The spread in which she shares her memories of the famine is especially haunting. On one page, the mother describes how they ate anything they could find, and her family listens from the dinner table with expressions of sadness; on the opposite page, her brother’s chair at the table is empty. 

Watercress is a delicate and deeply felt exploration of memory, trauma and family. 

Author Andrea Wang’s childhood memory of picking watercress by the side of the road serves as the inspiration for this emotional powerhouse of a picture book, which she describes in an author’s note as “both an apology and a love letter” to her parents. 

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A young girl from the Dominican Republic relates the uplifting story of how she and her mother made a new life in Brooklyn in Starting Over in Sunset Park.

“My first trip in an airplane was from the Dominican Republic to New York City,” the narrator begins. Though she is homesick, she’s also awestruck by the beauty of New York, where she and her mother move in with her aunt and cousins. Eventually, they are able to find their own apartment, which the girl is excited about, though she still spends time reflecting on the home she left behind. In a moving spread, she remembers time spent with her abuela. Authors José Pelaez and Lynn McGee write the girl’s grandmother’s advice to her in Spanish, then translate it in a parenthetical, a technique they use throughout the book.

The girl struggles at school, where her English skills lag behind other students’, but she finds unexpected common ground with her teacher, who emigrated from Poland as a child. From that deeply felt experience, along with what she learns from her upstairs neighbor and a new job involving lots of cats, the girl gains confidence and begins to settle into her new home: “This strange new place began to feel a little magical.”

The unnamed girl’s first-person narration, one of the book’s strengths, is consistently authentic; she is vulnerable but tough, and her experiences reflect those faced by many immigrants to the United States. Illustrator Bianca Diaz’s bright, eye-catching palette radiates warmth with sunny yellows, brilliant reds and pinks, verdant greens and appealing blues and purples. A story full of vitality and compassion, Starting Over in Sunset Park will speak to all readers but will resonate most strongly with anyone who has ever made a home in a new country.

A young girl from the Dominican Republic relates the uplifting story of how she and her mother made a new life in Brooklyn in Starting Over in Sunset Park.

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My First Day is a captivating story that depicts one child’s journey to school.

“Today is the first day.” A young Vietnamese boy, his backpack resting snugly on his shoulders, heads out. Mama told him he’s finally big enough to do this alone. Paddling where “the great river, mother Mekong, tumbles into the endless sea,” the boy cuts a striking figure as he stands resolutely in his boat while tall, foam-crested waves in rich shades of green and cyan swell around him.

The book’s language is both plain-spoken (“I set out upon the waves and begin my adventure”) and evocative (“I paddle out into the floodwaters, past yesterdays and all the things I didn’t know”). Author-illustrators Phùng Nguyên Quang and Huỳnh Kim Liên draw seamless parallels between the boy’s travels and the first day of school that awaits him: “There is still a world to learn,” he says as he first leaves home. Later, he likens his journey to the “unfamiliar hallways of the forest” and refers to the “blackboard” of the river.

With resilience, the boy endures rough waters, rain, crocodiles and pythons—some real, some imaginary. These darker spreads, filled with menacing, beguiling shadows, eventually make way for exquisite, light-filled pages. Coral-hued rays of sunlight break through clouds, and the sky fills with brilliant colors and “a dance of storks and new worlds.” In one thrilling spread, Quang and Liên provide an underwater perspective: The boy floats on the surface as we look up at him alongside schools of fish who move gracefully through the water.

Fluid, energetic lines, compelling page turns and a forward momentum as the boy steadfastly paddles through the water make My First Day a particularly propulsive, cinematic story. Readers everywhere who know the thrill of the first day of school will delight to see other children arriving in their respective boats at the book’s close, though they may be sad to see the boy’s adventure end. The book’s back matter includes a note reminding readers that children go to school in many different ways and that some children are “even heroes on their journeys!

Readers everywhere who know the thrill of the first day of school will delight to see other children arriving in their respective boats at the book’s close, though they may be sad to see the boy’s adventure end.
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Acclaimed author and illustrator Peter Sís movingly celebrates Nicholas Winton, a “quiet hero of the Holocaust” in Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued.

After briefly depicting Winton’s childhood in England, Sís turns to his years as a young man in Europe, swiftly setting the stage and laying out the stakes: Germany, under Nazi rule, is beginning to flex its military might. Instead of going on a ski vacation in the winter of 1938, “Nicky" accepts a friend’s invitation to come to Prague and changes the course of history. 

Next, Sís introduces 10-year-old Vera Diamantova, an ardent cat lover in Czechoslovakia in 1938. When the German army marches into the Sudetenland, a region on the Czech-German border, Diamantova’s parents decide to put her on a train to England. Her mother has heard about an Englishman who helps children escape the Nazis. “The Englishman,” Sís emphasizes, using a larger font for this sentence, “was Nicky.” Winton ultimately saved a total of 669 children. 

Sís relates these events with expert pacing as he juggles Winton’s extraordinary feat; Diamantova’s departure from her home and subsequent new life in England, as well as the loss of her family to Nazi concentration camps; a timeline of the war itself; and the quiet lives both led after the war ended. Winton "never told anyone about the children,” Sís writes. Nicky & Vera concludes with an appearance Winton made on the popular BBC television program “That’s Life” in the late 1980s that saw him reunite with some of the now grown children he saved.

Detailed, intricate illustrations on a muted palette of earth tones capture it all. Sís frequently and movingly incorporates smaller drawings inside of larger images. In the blueish spread in which Diamantova arrives at the train station in London, Sís shows a silhouette of her figure from behind; he fills the silhouette with colorful scenes of the family and home she left behind, a beloved cat and horse and the landscape of her home country.

In a closing note that provides more detail about Winton and Diamantova, Sís writes that he always revered more celebrated individuals, but “had not paid enough attention to the reluctant and quiet heroes.” This tenderly crafted, visually layered and deeply reverent book will help young readers do just that.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Peter Sís reveals what he learned about heroism as he wrote and illustrated Nicky & Vera.

Acclaimed author and illustrator Peter Sís movingly celebrates Nicholas Winton, a “quiet hero of the Holocaust” in Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued.

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Author and illustrator Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson, who received both Newbery and Caldecott recognition for their 2015 collaboration, Last Stop on Market Street, team up for a third time on Milo Imagines the World, a nuanced tale about the fallacies of first impressions.

Milo and his older sister take long monthly subway rides together, though their destination isn’t revealed until the end of the book. With notebook and pencil in hand, Milo draws the lives he imagines for the people he sees on the train. These include a “whiskered man” whom Milo sketches returning home alone to a messy apartment, a primly dressed boy and his father depicted as living in a castle and a woman in a wedding dress who celebrates a festive wedding to a man.

When he arrives at the detention facility to visit his mother, Milo sees the boy he drew on the train and realizes that “maybe you can’t really know anyone just by looking at their face.” He begins to envision different lives for the strangers than those he drew on the subway. Perhaps the woman in the wedding dress married another woman or that whiskered man went home to his loving family.

De la Peña’s prose is precise and evocative (Milo is “a shook-up soda” of nerves), full of pleasant verbs (the train “bucks back into motion”). His story respects young readers by incorporating their complex interior worlds and the observant ways they attend to issues of class. When "a crew of breakers" exits the train, for example, and "faces still follow their every move," Milo imagines that the breakers will be subjected to racist micoaggressions when they step outside the subway.

Robinson’s signature collage illustrations bring Milo and his sister’s distinct personalities to life. Milo is bespectacled and wears an eye-catching lime-colored knit hat, and his sister is deeply distracted by her phone. Milo’s own simple drawings capture his childlike sense of wonder without ever patronizing.

A thoughtfully crafted addition to the small canon of books about children with an incarcerated parent, this sweet but never saccharine story is a classic in the making.

Author and illustrator Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson, who received both Newbery and Caldecott recognition for their 2015 collaboration, Last Stop on Market Street, reunite for a third time on Milo Imagines the World, a nuanced tale about the fallacies of first impressions.

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LeUyen Pham’s Outside, Inside addresses the subject of the COVID-19 pandemic for young readers with sensitivity and compassion.

“Something strange happened on an unremarkable day just before the season changed,” Pham’s narration begins. “Everybody who was outside . . . went inside.” The book’s first spread shows a bustling street filled with people going about their daily life. Two people walk dogs; a man rides a bicycle and a child rides a scooter; children greet each other on the stoop of a building; people carry bags of groceries. We see the same street on the next spread, but now it’s empty—save for a girl’s cat, who will serve as our guide throughout the book. The girl, who anchors the story, looks hesitantly out the window at the absence of neighbors on the street.

After emphasizing that this migration from outside to inside was something that happened all around the world, Pham pays tribute to the medical personnel and essential workers to whom the book is dedicated in two striking spreads. Detailed vignettes in a more restrained and muted color palette depict sobering and honest scenes of sadness, struggle, solitude and grief. Next, we peer into indoor lives, as Pham show us an out-of-work family opening bills at the kitchen table with expressions of dismay and a child grown weary of virtual learning. Throughout, however, she also shows us scenes of kinship, community and camaraderie. Families work, play and bake together; medical staff bring a birthday cake to a woman in a hospital bed. Highlighting another meaning of “inside,” Pham reminds us how “we were all changing a tiny bit inside.”

The book briefly addresses the reason for our indoor migration—“because everyone knew it was the right thing to do.” Pham doesn’t sugarcoat the impact that the pandemic has had on our lives, but COVID-19 also isn’t explicitly mentioned until a detailed and moving closing author’s note. Most children will have heard enough about the virus that laying it out explicitly in the text is unnecessary. Eagle-eyed readers, however, will notice the phrase “COVID 19” on a doctor’s whiteboard.

Pham (There's No Such Thing as Little) narrates Outside, Inside in the past tense, perhaps as a reminder that even this pandemic, too, shall pass. A brightly colored double gatefold imagines the day in the future when we’ll all be outdoors and near one another again. In the meantime, this deeply felt book will make waiting for that day a little bit easier to bear.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Author-illustrator LeUyen Pham goes behind the scenes of Outside, Inside.

LeUyen Pham’s Outside, Inside addresses the subject of the COVID-19 pandemic for young readers with sensitivity and compassion.

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