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Moose's Book Bus


Author & Illustrator: Inga Moore

Genre: Fiction Picture Book

Target Ages: 3-7

Prime Audiences: All Readers Who Love Libraries

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Publication Year: 2021


When Moose runs out of stories to tell his family, he attempts to borrow books from his neighbors— but nobody has any books!  So Moose goes to the city and borrows books from the library, and soon his family's home is overfilled with neighbors who enjoy listening to him read stories.  Moose's solution?  Transform an old bus into a book bus and drive the countryside providing books for his neighbors!


Inga Moore's Moose's Book Bus is a quaint story about the love of stories, and anyone who has experienced the joy of getting books from a bookmobile/book bus will enjoy reading about Moose and his neighbors.  It's a story that promotes storytelling, literacy, and neighborly goodwill, and Moore's illustrations deftly capture the tone and mood of her tale about tale-telling.  After the final page, readers will be on the lookout for a book bus in their neighborhood!



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All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom


Author: Angela Johnson

Illustrator: E.B. Lewis

Genre/Format: Historical Fiction Picture Book

Target Ages: 5-9

Prime Audiences: African American Descendants of Slaves and Former Slaves and All Americans Who Value Freedom

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication Year: 2014


On the morning of June 19, 1865, a slave girl wakes to the smell of honeysuckle, sweet but not enough against the bitter reality of slavery.  And on the morning of June 20, the honeysuckle will once again come to wake her and her family, but all will be different because of the proclamation that has finally reached the slaves of Texas— You are free.


"To be given freedom for the first time in your life-- wouldn't that be truly awesome, but also somehow surreal and dreamlike?"  These words of E.B. Lewis from his Illustrator's Note of the picture book All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom, capture the tone of Angela Johnson's story of a group of slaves in Texas experiencing their first day of freedom on June 19, 1865, now known and celebrated as Juneteenth.  Lewis's watercolor scenes of a first day of freedom match the thoughtful and straightforward words of Johnson through her fictional narrator, nameless yet symbolic of all those real souls who suffered enslaved, whose sufferings are not forgotten though their names may be unknown to us today.  Lewis also writes "I illustrated not just jubilation and celebrations, but expressions of repose, disconnect, surprise, and contemplation."  And this is a book of all those things, a book that speaks quietly, yet clearly to all who enjoy freedom today, a book that speaks in solemn remembrance of those whose precious dream of freedom finally became a reality.  



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Big Papa and the Time Machine


Author: Daniel Bernstrom

Illustrator: Shane W. Evans

Genre: Picture Book

Target Ages: 4-8

Prime Audience: Children Who Don't Like School; Children Who Struggle with Fear; Children Who Are Close to Their Grandparents

Publisher: HarperCollins

Publication Year: 2020


When Big Papa shows up with his time machine because his grandson doesn't want to go to school, he takes him on a ride through his personal history.  And during each stop on their ride through time, Big Papa's grandson sees Big Papa overcome a fear.  "That's called being brave," Big Papa says before they move on.  And by the time they return to the present day in front of the school, Big Papa's grandson understands many more things about life and, most importantly, Big Papa's love for him.


Big Papa and the Time Machine is a heartful story of a grandfather and his grandson, one that echoes Daniel Bernstrom's relationship with his own grandfather as he depicts in his author's note at the end of the book.  Shane W. Evans's bright, bold colors bring the present and the past to life, and the reader rides along with the grandson in experiencing the important moments in Big Papa's life.  This book will prompt the grandchild to ask and it will prompt the grandparent to share as it reminds us that our memories— our histories— matter to the ones we love.



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Summer Color!


Author: Diana Murray

Illustrator: Zoe Persico

Genre: Picture Book

Target Ages: 4-8

Prime Audiences: Children Learning Colors; Families Who Love the Outdoors

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

Publication Year: 2018


What can happen on a hot summer day?  You can sit on the porch eating popsicles with your cousins, you can explore nature beyond the yard, you can watch neighbors fish from the dock…and you can run back inside and wait for the storm to pass!


Summer Color, a rhyming picture book by Diana Murray and Zoe Persico, is a colorful look at what happens on a hot, summer day.  Murray's verse emphasizes the colors that Persico puts in her illustrations, making a fun pairing of word and picture throughout.  And Murray's verbs she uses to describe the actions contribute to a book that's sure to grow the vocabulary and wonder of its young readers and hearers!



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We Dream of Space


Author: Erin Entrada Kelly

Genre: Fiction

Prime Ages: 11-14

Prime Audiences: Junior High/Middle School Students Dealing with Family Conflicts, Anger Problems, Personal Short-Comings, or Just Feeling Out of Place; Adolescents Interested in Space Exploration

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Publication Year: 2020


We're all in orbit, circling each other's lives, navigating the spaces of life, taking each day as a new frontier.  But the universe is not always a kind place, not even the spaces we inhabit within our own thoughts.  But it's within those spaces where the greatest discoveries can be made, the ones that make navigating all the other spaces easier.


Erin Entrada Kelly's fantastic middle-grade novel We Dream of Space is about three siblings, Cash, Fitch, and Bird, and their tumultuous month of January 1986, set against the backdrop of the anticipation of the Challenger shuttle launch and its subsequent tragedy.  Readers will get these characters, along with the other characters within their orbits, and Kelly's use of a changing third person point of view between the siblings gives readers a full view of the Nelson Thomas's universe.  And while this is definitely not a "happily ever after" story, the after is hopeful— and that's enough to make Cash, Fitch, and Bird's spaces, individually and collectively, happier places to navigate.   


Read We Dream of Space!



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Author: Andrea Wang

Illustrator: Jason Chen

Genre: Picture Book

Target Ages: 4-8

Prime Audiences: Children of Immigrants; Children Living in a New Place

Publisher: Neal Porter Books

Publication Year: 2021


For many if not most of us, food is more than food— food is memory, and certain dishes, their smells and their tastes and their very appearances evoke within our hearts and minds the journey of our lives.  And food is family, the sweet and bitter links to one another, and this is the focus of Andrea Wang and Jason Chin's touching picture book Watercress.


Based on her own experiences as a first-gernaration immigrant, Wang describes her story as "an apology and a love letter" to her parents, as her adolescent-aged protagonist reflects Wang's own feelings about having to pick wild watercress by the roadside.  Wang's narrative is skillfully seasoned with figurative language and imagery, and Chen's watercolor illustrations capture the tone of both the families present actions and their memories.  And though it's a picture book, it's a story than will resonate with older sibling and with parents, a story that will stir their memories and remind them of family recipes, not just the foods but the recipe of how their family came to their present circumstances.  Watercress is a literary dish well worth savoring. 



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The Prince's Poison Cup


Author: Dr. R.C. Sproul

Illustrator: Justin Gerard

Genre: Picture Book

Recommended Ages: 8 and Older

Prime Audiences: Children Beginning to Come into a Greater Understanding of the God of the Bible and Jesus Christ; Children Inquiring about God and Jesus Christ

Publisher: Reformation Trust

Publication Year: 2008


"Daddy, why does medicine taste so bad if it's going to make us well?"  That's the question Ella Ruth has for her father, a question Grandpa answers with a story when he comes to visit later that afternoon.  It's a story about the King of Life. It's about his subjects who disobey him and drink from a fountain that turns their hearts to stone.  And it's about the King's son, the Prince, who drinks from a different fountain, a fountain of poison, so that the subjects whom the King of Life so loves can love him again in return.


Written by the late Dr. R.C. Sproul, pastor and founder of Ligonier Ministries, and illustrated by Justin Gerard, The Prince's Poison Cup is an allegory of man's fall in the garden of Eden, God's love for fallen man whom He created, and our salvation through Jesus Christ.  Pastor Sproul's story within-a-story is beautifully captured through Gerard's soft and glowing, serious and tender illustrations, as if the reader is opening and viewing a treasure.  The "For Parents" section after the narrative is a helpful resource that walks through the allegorical points of the story in the form of questions answered by Scripture.  This is an excellent primer for discussions about God and Jesus Christ and the Bible, one that families will treasure because it points towards the true treasure— reconciliation with God through salvation in Christ!



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William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad


Author/Illustrator: Don Tate

Genre: Picture Book Biography

Target Ages: 6-10

Prime Audiences: Children, Parents, and Teachers Interested in Black History

Publisher: Peachtree Publishing Company

Publication Year: 2020



When you hear the term "Underground Railroad," the name Harriet Tubman comes to mind.  But what about that of William Still, born free, the son of former slaves, the man who became the manager of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, whose home became a "station" on the Underground Railroad, whose empathetic ear and pen recorded the stories of freedom-seekers whom he and others helped, records that "helped reunite families, torn apart by slavery, to find each other once they'd found freedom"?  If not, then you'll learn all about him in William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad, written and illustrated by Don Tate.


Tate's biography of William Still is informative and inspirational, adding to the canon of Black History literature for both children and adults.  It is an applause for the life of a man who used his resources as a balm for others when "living ached like an open sore," the sore from slavery's separating lashes, and it is fitting that the man who so valued the stories of others has his own story told in such an excellent way!   


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A Christmas Carol


Author: Charles Dickens

Illustrator: Michael Cole

Genre: Fiction Picture Book

Target Ages: 9 and Older

Prime Audiences: Fans of Christmas and of Christmas Stories; Fans of Charles Dickens

Publisher: Pagoda Books

Publication Year: 1985 (* The story A Christmas Carol was first published in 1843)


In the fall of 2019, at the Half Price Books in Austin on North Lamar, I came across what is now a gem in my personal book collection— Michael Cole's fully illustrated picture book of A Christmas Carol.  It' an amazing work of art as a book!


Cole's "adaptation" of Dickens' classic tale is essentially a graphic novel, with gorgeously detailed illustrations on nearly every page.  From the muted, foggy overview of London as the opening end-pages, to the joys and pains on the faces of Dickens's characters as Dickens's Ghosts visit Ebenezer Scrooge, to the clear, crisp overview of London after Scrooge's transformation that are the closing end-pages, Cole brings the tale alive to the reader in a way that matches a live performance.  But what really sets this book apart, in combination with the illustrations, is that the book uses Dickens's original and complete text!  The only adaptation of the text is when Cole uses comic book style speech bubbles for the dialogue, leaving out the tags.  Did I already say this book is amazing?  I'll say it again then— It's amazing!


If you find a copy of this book, get it!  It's a masterful artistic interpretation of Dickens' masterpiece of storytelling!



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Through the Wardrobe: How C.S. Lewis Created Narnia


Author/Illustrator: Lina Maslo

Genre: Biographical Picture Book

Target Ages: 4-8 and Older

Prime Audience: Fans of the Narnia Series; Readers of Fantasy; Aspiring Writers

Publisher: Balzer & Bray

Publication Year: 2020


When you open Lina Maslo's Through the Wardrobe: How C.S. Lewis Created Narnia, the front endpapers, letters to Lewis from readers, snatches your attention.  And before you even get to Maslo's narrative, you immediately flip to the end of the book to see those endpapers, which are Lewis's responses to each of the letters.  This is fantastic way to begin and end a book about a writer, and these endpapers alone will inspire readers and writers alike— but the endpapers are not alone in their power of inspiration.  Maslo's chronicling of Lewis's (referring to him as "Jack," as C.S. renamed himself in his childhood) journey as a reader and a writer takes the reader on a quiet adventure, one that encourages storytellers and writers and artists to put their ideas on the page and give them life, as Lewis did Narnia.  Maslo includes "More About Jack…" and "…And Other Interesting Facts" sections after her narrative, which add to the delight of reading about Lewis's life.  And Maslo's charming illustrations will cause the reader to pause and observe them, visual treats to complement the words.


Through the Wardrobe is a delightful picture book, and for readers who are fans of C.S. Lewis and of Narnia, they'll enjoy the story of Lewis's life and be reminded of the times they spent in Narnia themselves as readers.  And for those who are unfamiliar with his work, I'm sure they'll be heading to the bookstore and stepping into the wardrobe, soon!



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