One of the fun things about being a writer is that I have an excuse to read and I can call it work. Several years ago, the New York Journal of Books asked me to be a contributing reviewer. The process has been an interesting one from both a reader’s and writer’s perspective and has helped me think about how to sharpen my craft. I’ve chosen to review only children’s books, which I’ve included below. If you scroll through the list you’ll see pretty quickly that I’m always drawn to books that are multicultural. Unfortunately, I don’t usually have a lot to choose from. Fortunately, the ones I find are gems. I hope you find a good one to include in your own reading list.
The Breaking News
My Beijing: Four Stories of Everyday Wonder
Written and Illustrated by Nie Jun; Translated by Edward Gauvin
The engaging illustrations, exposure to the world of Beijing, timeless themes, and sweet characters make My Beijing a worthy addition to any library. It’s a keeper.
Ghost Queen (Elsewhere)
Written and Illustrated by Britt Wilson
This should be a fun graphic novel. Wilson’s richly colored illustrations are lively; the multicultural family characters timely; the storyline inventive. Somehow, though, it doesn’t deliver.
Written by Sara Leach; Illustrated by Rebecca Bender
Penguin Days provides learning of the most important kind, and has an added bonus of disarming humor, age appropriate text, and engaging illustrations.”
Dear Professor Whale
Written by Megumi Iwasa; Illustrated by Jun Takabatake
There’s something simple and endearing about Dear Professor Whale, the follow-up to the charming Yours Sincerely, Giraffe.
Written and Illustrated by Juana Medina
An engaging story with endearing characters and a gentle touch on the larger themes of loss and change make for a valuable read.”
Written by Bridget Krone; Illustrated by Karen Vermeulen
Bridget Krone notes that her “favorite stories are those that, just when you expect a lesson, sing a song instead.” Small Mercies is just that surprising song, full of light and sweetness. Readers will carry the melody in their hearts long after the last page is turned.
No Reading Allowed
Written by Raj Haldar and Chris Carpenter; Illustrated by Bryce Gladfelter
No doubt, Raj Haldar and Chris Carpenter had a ton of fun writing this silly book of a couple dozen or more sentences with homophones, homonyms, and tricky punctuations. After all, a love of language entwines every writer’s heart. Illustrator Bryce Gladfelter hits some homeruns with his lively artwork (Gary Larson would cheer the laughing sheep, with or without the wordplay).
Written by Pendred E. Noyce; Illustrated by Diego Chaves
Just how do planes stay in the sky? How do people get inside the television? And why don’t the people on the bottom of the earth fall off? Don’t expect to find the answers here—at least not in the book itself.
Kate the Chemist: The STEM Night Disaster
Written by Dr. Kate Biberdorf; Illustrated by
Thank goodness this book has a purpose that’s clear from the beginning: It’s to inspire a love of STEM for elementary school kids. Otherwise, readers might suspect that this is just an infomercial for the YouTube videos of Dr. Kate Biberdorf’s, a.k.a. “Kate the Chemist.”
J.D. and the Great Barber Battle
Written by J. Dillard; Illustrated by Akeem S. Roberts
J.D. is a spunky boy who discovers he has a surprising gift. It turns out he’s a genius barber. This isn’t exactly the dream of every eight-year-old boy, but who are we to judge the likelihood of a child hairstyling prodigy?