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A Toni Morrison Treasury caters to preschoolers and young readers with a collection of eight children’s books that the late Nobel Prize-winning writer wrote with her son, Slade Morrison. Each one is illustrated by an artist chosen by Toni herself; they include Joe Cepeda, Pascal Lemaitre, Giselle Potter, Sean Qualls and Shadra Strickland. As Oprah Winfrey writes in a brief foreword, “Reading these stories is a way for children and adults to connect with one of the world’s most extraordinary authors in a new and inspiring way.” 

Adults will enjoy sharing these stories with young readers, as many Morrison fans may never have encountered her writing for children. “The Big Box” is a lengthy rhyming story about three children confined to a big brown box because, according to adults, they “just can’t handle their freedom.” The tale is a delight from start to finish. At first, the big box seems to offer unfettered joys—swings and slides and treats and toys galore—but readers will soon realize it’s a prison. As the children note: “But if freedom is handled your way / Then it’s not my freedom or free.” Giselle Potter’s droll illustrations perfectly capture the strange dichotomy of their situation and their feelings of entrapment.

Pascal Lemaitre’s comic-style illustrations enliven the “Who’s Got Game?” series of fables, which pit ant against grasshopper, lion against mouse and grandfather against snake. “Poppy or the Snake” is particularly clever, and Lemaitre’s use of dark tones heightens the tension between the two protagonists. Bright green Snake’s bold, wily ways make this a fun read-aloud, especially when Poppy ends up having the last laugh. 

In “Peeny Butter Fudge,” a lively homage to raucously wild days with a grandmother, Joe Cepada’s bright illustrations ramp up the rollicking fun had by two sisters, a brother and their high-spirited Nana. Readers can continue on their own by making the recipe for the titular treat, which is included at the end. “Please, Louise” rounds out the collection, showing how a young girl’s day is brightened by a trip to the library: “So smile as the stories unfurl / where beauty and wonder cannot hide. / Because reading books is a pleasing guide.” Shadra Strickland reinforces this message with engaging art beginning with dark, dreary colors on a stormy day that gradually morph into a rainbow.

Adults will enjoy sharing the stories of A Toni Morrison Treasury with young readers, as many Morrison fans may never have encountered her writing for children.
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Books like A Whale of a Time: A Funny Poem for Each Day of the Year offer year-round reading selections, facilitating great bedtime rituals and making reading an easy part of a child’s daily routine. The poems included here are particularly short, sweet and funny, while representing a broad range of contributors, including Roald Dahl, T.S. Eliot, Nikki Giovanni, Linda Sue Park, Robert Louis Stevenson and Judith Viorst. 

Lou Peacock draws readers right in with an infectious, animated introduction that urges them to quickly turn to Rita Dove’s Jan. 1 poem, “The First Book,” and not to miss Willard R. Espy’s clever ode to punctuation for July 4, “Private? No!” Matt Hunt’s kid-friendly illustrations enrich each page with additional humor—for example, by showing a loud-mouthed toddler serenading her exhausted parents from her crib, or a page full of April Fool’s Day pranks. Espy’s poem, for instance, gets a full-page spread featuring a boy enjoying a glorious chlorine-filled swimming pool. Likewise, art of a wide-mouthed, smiling crocodile and a dentist who looks none too pleased accompanies Dahl’s “The Dentist and the Crocodile.”

Many spreads focus on several poems with a central theme—such as dogs, the moon, laughter, family or even porcupines and hedgehogs—creating a nice continuity between several days in a row. No matter what kind of day a young reader may be having, A Whale of a Time will spark a satisfying smile.

No matter what kind of day a young reader may be having, A Whale of a Time will spark a satisfying smile.
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In homage to a children’s periodical started by scholar and activist W.E.B. Du Bois in 1920, Karida L. Brown, a professor of sociology at Emory University Sociology, and artist Charly Palmer—a husband-and-wife team—have curated an astounding collection celebrating Black joy and creativity. The New Brownies’ Book: A Love Letter to Black Families (Chronicle, $40, 9781797216829) is a large-format treasury of art, short stories, poetry, essays, plays and more, which the authors hope will become “a fixture in the homes of every Black family” and serve “as a strong expression of inspiration, recognition, love, laughter, reflection, and celebration of what we mean to one another.”

The illustrations throughout are eye-catching in color, theme and style, starting with Tokie Rome-Taylor’s mesmerizing cover photograph, Child of God, featuring a young girl dressed in lace and feathers. Chapters are devoted to subjects like family, school, “She’roes” (notable women), living and dying; there is also a section focused on Langston Hughes, who published his first work in the original Brownies’ Book at age 20.

“I feel like his spirit as our ancestor is all over this thing.” Charly Palmer and Karida L. Brown brought together Black creators young and old to create The New Brownies’ Book

While many anthologies of this sort tend to focus on young audiences, The New Brownies’ Book is designed to appeal to all ages, from elementary students to adults. The collection does an exceptional job of celebrating both new and old artistic visions by putting them in conversation. For example, one of Langston’s short poems, “Fairies,” is paired with a vibrant illustration from Palmer showing a young Black boy in a shimmering forest, tilting his face upward in a look of profound wonder. The New Brownies’ Book contains numerous homages to the original magazine—including reproductions of early pages and a July 1920 cover—but it also overflows with inspiration from modern sources, such as a bold, energetic portrait of a young man painted by Tyrone Geter.

This treasury inspired by W.E.B. Du Bois acknowledges the past while celebrating modern times with illustrations throughout that are eye-catching in color, theme and style.

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