I TALK LIKE A RIVER, by Jordan Scott, illustrated by Sydney Smith
The author, a Canadian poet, also has a hard time with stuttering. When he goes on a trip with his father to a nearby river, he sees that turbulence and eddying are just part of the flow. Smith’s pictures are very detailed, and they show the boy’s senses as he swims toward self-acceptance.
IF YOU COME TO EARTH, by Sophie Blackall.
It starts with, “Dear Visitor from Outer Space, if you come to Earth, here’s what you need to know.” Blackall does what he said he would: Her book looks like it has a lot of different things in it, like every river, flower, person, cruise ship, and bottle cap in the world.
THE LITTLE MERMAID, by Jerry Pinkney.
All of the characters in Pinkney’s reimagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale are Black, and all of the people and the animals are different races, but they all fall in love with each other.
OUR LITTLE KITCHEN, by Jillian Tamaki.
When Tamaki went to help out at a small community kitchen that feeds the hungry, she came up with the idea for this colorful, mouth-watering whirlwind of a book. The diverse group of characters start chopping, stirring, and whipping right away.
OUTSIDE IN, by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Cindy Derby.
When we read Underwood’s words and see Derby’s beautiful art, we are reminded that nature will be there for us when we’re ready. Outside says, “I’m here.” In English: “I miss you.”
A STORY ABOUT AFIYA, by James Berry, illustrated by Anna Cunha.
“Afiya,” which means “health” in Swahili, is the name of a young girl who wears a summer dress that “gathers” what she sees as she dances across an island in motion. The Jamaican poet who wrote this book died in 2017. Each day, Afiya’s dress is washed for the first time. Each spread in the book is a new canvas for the Brazilian artist who did it.
THE STRANGE BIRDS OF FLANNERY O’CONNOR, by Amy Alznauer, illustrated by Ping Zhu..
This book is a strange art object that tells the story of how O’Connor started writing and how much she loved the chickens in her backyard as a child. In Alznauer’s work, he uses a grounded, real language with a lyricism that takes off. Zhu’s painting of odd human proportions against brilliant brushstroke plumage enthralls.
THERE MUST BE MORE THAN THAT! by Shinsuke Yoshitake.
When a little girl’s brother tells her that “our future is doomed,” she runs to her grandmother in a panic. Her grandmother helps her think of many different futures, not just good and bad ones, instead of only thinking about good and bad scenarios.
THE WANDERER, by Peter Van den Ende.
When a paper boat sets sail on the sea at night, there is a lot of danger, magic, surprise, and awe in this masterful book that doesn’t even have words.
WHEN YOU LOOK UP, by Decur.
The self-taught Argentine artist Guillermo Decurgez, better known as Decur, tells the story of an introvert’s creative awakening in this moody watercolor-soaked book. It starts on “moving day,” when a boy who thinks the world is only in his phone finds a mysterious notebook in the secret compartment of a desk in his new room.
YOU MATTER, by Christian Robinson
It’s an anthem for self-worth that also talks about the history of life on Earth. In 107 words, it also talks about being alone, death, and rebirth.
BECOMING MUHAMMAD ALI, by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile
Cassius Clay’s kinetic boyhood, which is shown through prose, poetry, and illustrations, is the prism through which this book looks at the myth of the legendary boxer.
CHANCE: Escape From the Holocaust, by Uri Shulevitz.
When the author was 4, he and his parents flew from Warsaw to Russia and Turkestan. The book is filled with the author’s own art, including amazing childhood drawings.
CLASS ACT, by Jerry Craft.
In this moving and sometimes funny graphic novel, a Black student from the Co-op City section of the Bronx goes to a private middle school in Riverdale, which is richer than the Co-op City section of the Bronx. At the same time, the United States is going through a racial reckoning.
LORETTA LITTLE LOOKS BACK: Three Voices Go Tell It, by Andrea David Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney.
Sparkling with Southern words and rhythms, this book of read-aloud monologues tells the stories of three generations of children in a fictional Mississippi family who have to deal with everything from sharecropping to voter suppression. It also includes poems and songs.
MAÑANALAND, by Pam Muñoz Ryan.
In this book, which is set in a “land of a hundred bridges” that is “somewhere in the Americas,” an 11-year-old boy who lost his mother when he was a baby goes to haunted ruins that used to hide refugees from a nearby dictatorship.
THE SILVER ARROW, by Lev Grossman
The author of the adult book “The Magicians” wrote an eco-fable about climate change with poignant whimsy, using a magic steam train and talking animals to make the point about climate change.
WAYS TO MAKE SUNSHINE, by Renée Watson.
Like Beverly Cleary’s Ramona Quimby, who inspired this heart-wrenching but delightful new series, Ryan Hart is a bright, imaginative girl who likes to “make a way out of no way.” This series is both heart-wrenching and delightful.
WE DREAM OF SPACE, by Erin Entrada Kelly
Kelly is able to seamlessly move between small-scale middle school problems and big-picture questions about life and death in this lively, tender book about three siblings who are adrift in a dysfunctional family as they wait for the shuttle Challenger to launch.
WHEN STARS ARE SCATTERED, by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed.
Omar is a young Somali refugee who lived in the Dadaab camp run by the UN for 15 years with his little brother. This graphic novel is based on Omar’s real-life story.
BEFORE THE EVER AFTER, by Jacqueline Woodson.
A boy is having a hard time moving on with his life as his father, a professional football player, fades from his mind in this heartfelt poem about loss and longing.
DRAGON HOOPS, by Gene Luen Yang
This graphic novel has a lot to say about race and ethnicity. It shows the highs and lows of a high school basketball team, as well as the history of the sport itself.
EVERYTHING SAD IS UNTRUE (A True Story), by Daniel Nayeri.
In Nayeri’s book about his family’s journey from Iran to the United States, a modern-day Scheherazade tells stories to get through fifth grade.
THE TALK: Conversations About Race, Love & Truth, edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson
These essays, stories, poems, letters, and illustrations help children prepare for a world that can be confusing and hostile. They also make clear that the hard conversations we all need to have about race are part of a larger national reckoning, which is why we need to have them now.
THEY WENT LEFT, by Monica Hesse.
Polish heroine: At the end of World War II, the heroine of this “searing” book sets out to find her younger brother. He is the only member of her family who wasn’t sent to the gas chambers.