In A Tiny Difference, writer and illustrator June Tate presents a tender poem from the perspective of a kind and loving adult, encouraging young readers with simple, relatable language.
In A Tiny Difference, writer and illustrator June Tate presents a tender poem from the perspective of a kind and loving adult, encouraging young readers with simple, relatable language.
There Was a Shadow brims with Bruce Handy’s tenderness and reverence for the interior world of children and sparkles with Lisk Feng's beautifully wielded, sun-dappled colors.
There Was a Shadow brims with Bruce Handy’s tenderness and reverence for the interior world of children and sparkles with Lisk Feng's beautifully wielded, sun-dappled colors.
Mouse on the River is a well-planned, enchanting adventure in which the most dramatic event is a passing rainstorm—making this richly illustrated picture book a good choice for a soothing bedtime tale.
Mouse on the River is a well-planned, enchanting adventure in which the most dramatic event is a passing rainstorm—making this richly illustrated picture book a good choice for a soothing bedtime tale.
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Anzu is used to classmates making fun of her name, food and culture. In a new town, she’s prepared for the teasing to continue. When she asks for spirits to help her disappear during the Obon festival, Anzu doesn’t expect the spirit guardian of Yomi, the Shinto underworld, to steal a necklace gifted to Anzu by her grandmother. When the canine guardian disappears back to Yomi, Anzu chases after him and accidentally falls into the spirit realm.

Most of the souls in Yomi mean Anzu no harm, but Queen Izanami wants to add Anzu to her collection of spectral children. For Anzu to return home, she must escape Izanami’s magic and flee through the damaged Marsh Gate back to her own world. But Anzu realizes it isn’t enough to save herself. If she’s careful and brave, Anzu can save every child Izanami has stolen and help repair the gate before Obon is over and she is lost forever.

Pilu of the Woods author Mai K. Nguyen explores the strength that culture and ancestry provide in Anzu and the Realm of Darkness. Muted purples and blacks with occasional pops of brighter pigments from colorist Diana Tsai Santos help set the mood of the whimsical yet spooky spirit realm.

There are many characters to love, from the too-cute Nurikabe spirit that helps Anzu escape, to Anzu’s magically gifted grandmother, but Anzu still shines brightest. Despite her best attempts to hide herself—introducing herself as “Anne,” a nickname given by cruel classmates who thought her given name too strange—Anzu’s strength comes from embracing who she is. Anzu and the Realm of Darkness reminds readers that girls like Anzu need not shrink themselves: They deserve to use their voice, love what they love, and take up space.

Nguyen blends Japanese folklore with Shinto and Buddhist stories to create the spirits Anzu meets in her interdimensional adventure. For children who want to learn more, a mythological guide to the kami and yokai that make appearances in the story can be found in the backmatter. 

Fans of Hayao Miyakazi’s beloved film Spirited Away or supernatural graphic novels like Remy Lai’s Ghost Book will find Anzu and the Realm of Darkness a worthy addition to their shelves.

Anzu and the Realm of Darkness reminds readers that girls like Anzu need not shrink themselves: They deserve to use their voice, love what they love, and take up space.
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We all have days where everything feels dull and monotone. Calmly encouraging, Gray examines those emotions and gives its young narrator—and us—space to feel all the colors. 

Author Laura Dockrill writes in a manner that matches how one might feel on gray days: not exactly sad, but flat like “tea when it’s gone cold,” with simple words, short statements and a serious tone. A second look will have readers appreciating Dockrill’s skill at subtly peppering in alliteration, assonance and repetition. Hidden within this deceivingly overcast narration are the keen observations and striking descriptions of a watchful, thoughtful child. Later, another, chattier narrator—perhaps the child’s parent—joins in, turning the monologue into a conversation. But this second voice isn’t here to cheer us up. Rather, they remind us that even gray has its purpose, just as sidewalk puddles give the sun a chance to reflect. It’s a gentle, loving and well-handled approach that stands out against more typical attitudes of forced positivity.

Lauren Child, of Charlie and Lola fame, enlivens a somber day with her spot-on artwork that ventures outside the lines. Just like a little kid’s emotions, the artwork is charmingly messy and crayon-sketchy, bold and straightforward. Child brings us in extremely close, focusing our perspective on the child’s immediate surroundings and foregoing minute details. But her cleverly pared-down art captures a spectrum of emotions. We instantly become part of the child’s struggle, with little to distract us—much like how the child is unable to think about much besides their gray feelings. Child’s characters are always lovable and empathetic. Maybe it’s the side-eye expression she has mastered drawing. We can’t help but care. 

Readers will appreciate Gray for a genuine and realistic voice that will speak to young people (and not-so-young people) without feeling cloying or annoyingly cheerful. Gray doesn’t end in an unrealistic explosion of ecstasy, but in the exact way it should: full of color, not necessarily happy, but safe and calm and wrapped in love.

Readers will appreciate Gray for a genuine and realistic voice that will speak to young people (and not-so-young people) without feeling cloying in its gentle, loving approach.
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In 1940, Safiyyah lives in the Grand Mosque of Paris with her parents, grandmother Setti, toddler sister and several other families. Smart, curious and spunky, she loves exploring the city—especially the map room of the nearby library, as she dreams of becoming a world explorer. Her carefree ways quickly change, however, as Nazi soldiers approach and invade, plunging her orderly world into the chaos of World War II. Setti warns Safiyyah, “There will come a day when you have the choice to use what you’ve been given in one way or another. . . . There is no use in a million maps unless they lead you to light.”

Hiba Noor Khan’s debut novel, Safiyyah’s War, is a beautifully written, well-plotted work of historical fiction based on the heroic efforts of Mosque activists who forged identity documents for Jews, hid them in the mosque and led an estimated 500 to 1700 through the catacombs to safety. Khan does a particularly good job at making Safiyyah not only an eyewitness but also a bold heroine who dives into action, risking her life for others. 

As Paris becomes increasingly dangerous, Khan introduces a diverse, multigenerational cast that enriches the soul of this novel. There’s Setti, who longs for her native Algeria, which she was forced to leave as a teenager; Safiyyah’s father, who tends to Mosque business and taught Safiyyah to always help others; Monsieur Cassin, an elderly, well-known botanist who shows Safiyyah the wonders of an adventurous life; Timothée, a refugee shepherd boy from northern France; and Hana, a Jewish classmate whose parents have been captured by the Nazis and who comes to live with Safiyyah’s family. 

Khan builds an intricate drama around these characters, ramping up the tension with each chapter as Safiyyah carefully observes what is going on outside in the city as well as within the confines of the Mosque. Adept at investigating, Safiyyah soon finds herself helping the resistance out in unimaginable ways, especially during the novel’s thrilling climax. 

Safiyyah’s War brings WWII Paris clearly into focus as it shows how people of all ages—from different cultures and religions—can band together in the face of evil. Khan is a writer to watch, and Safiyyah is a heroine worth remembering.

Hiba Noor Khan’s debut novel, Safiyyah’s War, is a beautifully written, well-plotted work of historical fiction based on the heroic efforts of activists at the Grand Mosque of Paris who led Jews to safety.

“Shabbat is the best day of the week and today is the best best day of all.” So begins Joyful Song, a cheerful contemporary story celebrating Jewish naming traditions, from the award-winning team of Lesléa Newman and Susan Gal.  

Zachary, the story’s narrator, is a new big brother—and especially proud to be pushing the carriage holding his new baby sister as he and both of his moms make their way to the synagogue. As they walk through their neighborhood, the family greets neighbors curious about the new baby. Of course, everyone wants to know her name. 

But although the baby has been called by cute nicknames such as “Little Babka,” “Snuggle Bunny” and “Shayneh Maideleh” (which means “beautiful girl”), Zachary is careful to explain that her real name will be announced on that very day, at her naming ceremony. 

Before long, friends join in to accompany the family in a happy parade. At the synagogue, Zachary steps up to play a leading role, reciting the words he has been practicing to get right. And just as the baby opens her eyes and stretches her hands out to him, he announces that she will be called Aliza Shira, which means “joyful song.” After a community lunch in the social hall, the family hurries home, where their two little dogs greet them with excited barking. 

Gal’s bright, exuberant palate is highlighted by brilliant sunshiny golds and luscious coral and orange shades. The colorful, vibrant art brings a natural warmth to the array of diverse characters depicted throughout. In an author’s note, Newman provides information about naming ceremonies and traditions around the choice of names, sharing that she was named for her grandfather who died just months before she was born. Hebrew translations are provided for several names as well. 

A final question in this heartwarming book opens the door to further conversations for all kinds of families: “Everybody’s name has an interesting story. What’s the story of yours?” 

Susan Gal’s colorful, vibrant art brings a natural warmth to the array of diverse characters depicted throughout Lesléa Newman’s Joyful Song.
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Pulitzer-winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen (The Sympathizer) takes his first foray into children’s books with Simone, a thoughtful and emotionally intense family story set during the California fire season. Simone, a young Vietnamese American girl, is dreaming of floating in the ocean when she is awakened by her mother (whom she calls M&aacute, the only Vietnamese word she knows). A wildfire is approaching their town, and they’ve been ordered to evacuate.

Simone and her mother are prepared with go bags and an evacuation route—but even then Simone has to make tough choices: “I’ll be back for you,” she reluctantly says to the books and toys she can’t take. The pain of leaving things behind and the panic of vacating her home in an emergency remind Simone’s m&aacute of when floods forced her to evacuate her childhood home in Vietnam and abandon everything but her precious crayons. Despite the disorientation and chaos at the evacuation shelter, Simone’s m&aacute helps Simone find a path forward: “You don’t fight fire with fire, / You fight fire with water,” she says.

Minnie Phan’s hand-lettered text reinforces Simone’s first-person perspective, and Phan’s colored pencil and watercolor palette gorgeously interprets the book’s themes. Simone dreams in color, but when she awakens, the world is black and white, with the only remaining colors the red and orange of the flames. Likewise, her mother’s memories of Vietnam are blue, like the floodwaters that engulfed her home. Toward the end, as Simone and her new friends use artwork to remember their homes and to re-imagine their future, color returns to the pages. The illustrations combine with Nguyen’s words—“It’s up to us”—to offer a vision of hope and healing in the wake of generations of displacement.

In Simone, Minnie Phan’s illustrations combine with Viet Thanh Nguyen’s prose to offer a vision of hope and healing in the wake of generations of displacement.

Jo-Lynn Kirby’s always been one of the boys: “For so long, I was the cool girl. I was loud and fun and untouchable, always hanging with the guys—no girls allowed but me.” So it was both a thrill and a surprise when she and Maddie Price became best friends, and together reveled in their popularity at Culver Honors High School—until Maddie abruptly dumped Jo at the end of ninth grade. Jo was deeply hurt, but she’d be fine with her guy pals, right?

As Meredith Adamo’s masterful debut Not Like Other Girls opens, it’s senior year and graduation is on the horizon. But instead of celebrating, Jo’s in survival mode, trying to be invisible.

Last fall, private nudes were stolen from her phone and sent to her classmates. Her grades plummeted, she was labeled “Senior Slut,” and even her supposedly lifelong buddies now ostracize and bully her. Jo’s dismissive parents and brother aren’t thrilled with her either, and a safe place feels like a thing of the distant past.

When Maddie goes missing, Jo decides to investigate in the name of their former friendship. She’s aided by her classmate Hudson, who proposes a faux romance that’ll get her back into the popular clique and closer to people who might know what happened. As the two ferret out information about Maddie, Jo also plumbs the murky depths of her own memories, unearthing truths about the last few years that provoke fresh pain but also bring her self-image—and the motivations of those around her—into sharper focus.

Maddie’s senior year is an eye-opening one, rife with revelations that change her life and offer hope for her future. Not Like Other Girls is a powerful book that’s likely to do the same for its readers as it delivers a fiercely feminist take on rape culture. Whether crafting authentic and immersive narration, spinning a sweet and sexy fake-dating storyline, or building a suspenseful and twisty mystery, Adamo proves herself to be absolutely an author to watch.

Whether crafting authentic and immersive narration, spinning a sweet and sexy fake-dating storyline, or building a suspenseful and twisty mystery, Meredith Adamo proves herself to be absolutely an author to watch.
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Being afraid of the dark is “a family thing” for the young moth protagonist of Shine. When the sun goes down, he doesn’t want to leave his cozy home, but the twinkling stars give him the strength to fly away from his family and discover how many creatures there are to befriend—in particular, a host of fireflies.  

However, fireflies aren’t the only animals in the dark. Despite his fright, can the moth discover the bravery he needs to keep his new friends safe? 

Debut author-illustrator Bruno Valasse pulls from his own childhood fear of the dark in this inspirational picture book, which encourages children with the knowledge that “together, we can always be a light in the darkness.” 

Where Shine glows brightest is in Valasse’s illustrations. An earthy, muted palette allows Valasse’s fantastic creatures to take center stage as our moth friend hides among mushrooms, camouflages against an owl and hides other bugs within his wings. This beautiful artwork may inspire parents to theme a room around its imagery, and make little kids want to design big, beautiful wings of their own.

The sparse text of Shine is perfect for its message, but the short book may not be enough for eager young readers who fall in love with Valasse’s whimsical illustrations. Those kids will find that Shine pairs well with books like Phoebe Wahl’s Little Witch Hazel and Yeorim Yoon’s It’s Ok, Slow Lizard. But for parents who love to read nature-driven, emotional tales to their children before bed, Shine will provide a beautifully illustrated, bite-sized storytime.

For parents who love to read nature-driven, emotional tales to their children before bed, Shine will provide a beautifully illustrated, bite-sized storytime.
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Between the grief of losing her mother to cancer and the strain from caring for her ill but frivolous father, Ruby Santos is just trying to stay afloat. So when she discovers that her father is in debt to a powerful family who secretly rules the San Francisco BART system, Ruby doesn’t hesitate to take on his contract—which means becoming a “jumper,” or a person who magically travels between train lines to make mysterious, under-the-table deliveries. Ruby is determined to do well, but as she learns more about what the deliveries are and how the train-jumping business works, she begins to wonder if this new, magical world is darker—and deadlier—than she expected.

The Vanishing Station is a sweeping journey told in beautiful, first-person prose full of Ruby’s dynamic personality. As Ruby jumps around the world, Ellickson brings each place to life with vibrant descriptions, including sensory elements and Ruby’s emotional responses. Ruby’s charming and personable voice comes through to the reader in asides, exclamations and clever quips.

Ruby lives in between many worlds. While she was raised in a house passed down through her mother’s Irish family, her father also passed along the food, music and beliefs of his Filipino upbringing. Ruby has a burning desire to pursue art but feels pressured to focus on jobs that pay more because of her father’s mental and physical health issues. Isolated by her family’s troubles and the loss of her mother, Ruby starts the story feeling completely lost: “I’m a ghost in my own city.” 

Becoming a jumper seems to promise a life of adventure, if not freedom. But Ruby finds herself entangled in lies and secrets, stuck trying to balance her heavy responsibilities and her beliefs. As Ruby learns more about the people around her, including her father and members of the Bartholomew family, she begins to recognize that power can manifest and be claimed in many different ways.

Ultimately, Ruby’s development hinges on knowing and accepting herself. As she is forced to look inward, she learns more about where she comes from and who she truly is—and who she wants to be. Even when life feels out of control, we have the power to make meaningful decisions.

The Vanishing Station is about complex relationships: with family, with our choices and especially with one’s self. Ruby is a reminder that even under the heaviest, most difficult circumstances, it’s worth it to love, try and believe in yourself.

As Ruby jumps around the world in The Vanishing Station, author Ana Ellickson concocts vibrant descriptions of settings, sensory elements and her teenage heroine’s emotions.
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Xue is a talented musician of unfortunate background, who hopes to use her skill at playing the qin to earn her place in society. Years ago, her uncle brought her to Wudan’s famous House of Flowing Water to hone her skills in music, courtly manners and the arts, in order to secure a patron or other opportunity once she comes of age. Xue’s quiet life of study and performance is punctuated by visits from her beloved uncle, until tragedy strikes and all she has left of the only family she remembers is a qin he gifted her. 

When an inscrutable new customer, Duke Meng, asks to purchase the instrument, Xue barely has time to process his odd request before danger strikes, in the form of an attack by a strange beast. In the aftermath, the Duke offers a bargain: journey to his estate to work with him, and afterward he will reward Xue with admission to any music academy she wishes. Apprehensive but hopeful, Xue accepts and is thrust into a world of courtly intrigue, godly squabbles, ancient grudges and interplanar consequences. Xue’s music might be the key to helping the Duke unravel the plots swirling around his family.

Judy I. Lin’s Song of the Six Realms, is both a love letter to the power of music and a heady tour through a setting inspired by Chinese mythology and legend. Xue’s quest, which mostly takes place through her explorations of the estate and research on songs, poetry and the legendary Celestial realm, is told with elegant prose that complements the courtly formality of her world. Thoughtful and introspective, Xue learns more about her uncle’s past and the strength of his love, gets to know the Duke and his family, and picks up on small clues that become big payoffs. 

Much of the novel is slowly paced—even contemplative—despite its high stakes, mirroring the tranquil beauty of the verses Xue and other characters turn to for inspiration. This unusual prioritization of interiority and introspection bucks expectations of the young adult fantasy genre in a refreshing way, while still delivering an action-packed climax that feels all the more earned after the slow buildup. With a smart, steadfast heroine, a charming love interest and compelling side characters, Song of the Six Realms is a dazzling, dreamlike escape into a world of powerful poetry, godly magic and humble heroism.

With a smart, steadfast heroine, a charming love interest and compelling side characters, Song of the Six Realms is a dazzling, dreamlike escape into a world of powerful poetry, godly magic and humble heroism.

Sophia Henry Winslow and her neighbor Sophie Gershowitz are best friends with a lot in common. They both go by “Sophie,” love the color mauve, aren’t big fans of quesadillas and loathe gossip.

And both Sophies, as readers learn in Lois Lowry’s lovely and moving Tree. Table. Book., embody the saying that “age is just a number.” Although Sophie W. is 11 years old, and Sophie G. is 88 years old, they are undoubtedly kindred spirits who “have a true and lasting friendship, a friendship of the heart.”

When young Sophie’s parents explain to her that the elder Sophie has been having problems with her short-term memory—so much so that her son Aaron is considering moving her from their New Hampshire town to an assisted-living facility near him in Ohio—she is devastated. 

But also determined: She’s going to help Sophie G. prepare for cognitive testing so they won’t be separated. After all, “Sophie Gershowitz has taught me many things . . . I am still learning from her. And I think that learning from each other is one of the most important parts of friendship.” 

In order to prepare her friend for acing the most important exam ever, Sophie W. knows just the thing to use as a guide: the Merck Manual medical reference, provided by her friend and classmate Ralphie, whose dad is a doctor. Their precocious 7-year-old neighbor Oliver also joins the endeavor, cheering on the Sophies as they work through a series of exercises.

Lowry, winner of two Newbery Medals for The Giver and Number the Stars, does an excellent job building tension as Aaron’s impending visit—and the prospect of the Sophies’ lives changing forever—looms ever larger. When the test prep unlocks memories of Sophie G.’s childhood in Poland during World War II, Lowry conveys with sensitivity and realism Sophie W.’s sorrow upon realizing that things she’s only learned about in school have had a painful, lifelong impact on her beloved friend. 

Tree. Table. Book. is yet another story from a cherished author that will captivate readers as they reflect on the vagaries of history and the beauty of friendship, which are so poignantly conveyed in this timeless tale.

Lois Lowry’s Tree. Table. Book. will captivate readers as they reflect on the vagaries of history and the beauty of friendship, which are so poignantly conveyed in this timeless tale.
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Brendan Wenzel’s award-winning picture books (Every Dreaming Creature, A Stone Sat Still) invite readers to look carefully at every image. Two Together continues his exploration of perspective, this time through the eyes of a dog and a cat traveling home together. Two Together easily stands alone, but also fits as a companion to Wenzel’s They All Saw a Cat and Inside Cat. With simple rhymes and a rolling cadence, the text follows the animal friends as they walk through the woods, cross a stream and encounter other obstacles before arriving at their cozy home. Dog and cat enjoy different aspects of their journey—one two-page spread shows them caught in a rain shower (which dog appreciates while cat decidedly does not) before they are dried by a breeze and the warm sun (which cat loves and dog barely tolerates). The differences in their experiences are subtle, but readers will love discovering these moments of personality.

Wenzel further encourages close scrutiny through varying the art styles and media used. When readers first meet them, the dog and cat look very similar, both drawn in loose lines and muted shades as they walk toward a pond. But from the moment they see their reflections in the water, the picture book takes off, and for most of the book, the dog appears in a highly saturated, finger-paint style whereas the cat is drawn in scratchy lines of colored pencil. Sometimes a spread is fully divided, with the dog’s smeary boldness occupying the left and the cat’s sharp edges on the right. When they look at a bird, or a frog, or a bear, the creature is drawn as a composite of these contrasting styles. 

But when the dog and the cat look at each other, “two together face-to-face,” their appearances reverse. Suddenly, it is clear: The art is not representing what they look like, but how they see the world! 

While the rhymes aren’t always perfect, the simple sentences and descriptive words paired with vivid images will make Two Together excellent for developing readers.

Readers will love discovering a dog and cat’s moments of personality as they enjoy different aspects of their journey home in Two Together.

We all have our routines. And while the otherworldly fellow in The Spaceman may have a very different mode of transportation from the rest of us— a super cool silver spaceship—he too has a routine: “I collect soil samples. I label the soil samples. And I file the soil samples. Then I move on to the next planet. And the next.”

The Spaceman is a cute little guy with a smooth pate, googly eyes and an even-tempered demeanor. But when he lands on a planet with huge beautiful flowers and an enormous black bird, his eyes light up and his mouth falls open in surprise because “once in a very rare while, one encounters something special . . . that causes one to forget all about soil samples.” Understandably, he becomes even more expressive when said bird flies off with his spaceship!

As the puckish protagonist gives chase through this strange new landscape, he is aided by a butterfly that takes him on a breathtaking airborne tour. Readers will delight in marveling with the Spaceman at each new discovery, from an inquisitive new dog-friend to the pleasure of play. As the Spaceman realizes this colorful planet is anything but ordinary, his smile grows ever wider.

Randy Cecil has written and illustrated several picture books, including the award-winning Lucy, and provided artwork for over 20 books such as the bestselling And Here’s to You! by David Elliott. In this foray into outer space, Cecil prompts readers to consider the value of making time for the serendipitous and the surprising—as well as the joy of finding a place where you feel truly at home. The Spaceman is a fun book to read aloud, with beautiful oil-on-paper illustrations for readers to contemplate as they make their own discoveries right along with our diminutive hero. It makes a wryly humorous, quietly moving case for prioritizing whimsy, relaxation and friendship.

The latest from author-illustrator Randy Cecil is a fun book to read aloud, with beautiful oil-on-paper illustrations for readers to contemplate as they make their own discoveries right along with our diminutive hero.

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