Today we have a guest blogpost from my friend of 40 years, Ann Dalton. She was a children’s librarian for Seattle Public library for 30 years, filling many roles, including working in the Children’s Center during the planning, building and the first 10 years in Seattle’s stunning new downtown library. As she writes, her work included “Lots & lots of story times, lots & lots of picture books, lots & lots of hugs, some tears—not usually mine.” Thank you, Ann, for sharing some of your latest favorite picture books. –LMK
I split my time between Seattle & Canmore, Alberta—20 minutes from Banff National Park in the Bow Valley & majestic Canadian Rockies. Whatever you’d call the opposite of snowbirds, that’s what Steve & I are. He lives to ice climb in the winter, & this is THE place on earth to be for that. We hike on frozen lakes, trudge up mountains, ride gondolas down mountains, XC ski (me-not so well, but the surroundings can’t be beat), entertain climbers who visit from near & far, practice my high school French..
Canmore has an amazing community center called Elevation Place. It’s hopping most hours of the day & evening & offers something for just about everyone in this small town, especially when temperatures plummet! It contains an Olympic-size swimming pool, climbing gym, art gallery, meeting rooms, fitness & wellness classes &, my favorite—the library.
I volunteer every Thursday afternoon shelving children’s materials. It’s a highlight of my week & where I do my best musing about what it means to belong to a community. Coincidentally, the books I’m sharing here have everything to do with belonging—or with longing or longing to be this or that. It’s the work of a lifetime, I know. These books were new to me & strike me as gems for exploring endless possibilities for belonging with young children.
De la Pena, Matt. Patchwork. Illus. by Corinna Luyken. 2022
Newberry winner Matt de la Pena is a revelation to me! This is the first book of his I’ve read, & it’s stunning in its bold & subtle messaging about expectation & possibility. A gender reveal can miss the mark for a boy, a dancer in pink may have her STEM skills underestimated, the class clown who can’t sit still may possess the empathy of a master teacher. Each of us is a patchwork of all we see & hear. We are not just one note, one color. Luyken’s illustrations beautifully amplify de la Pena’s text.
Eggers, Dave. Tomorrow Most Likely. Illus. by Lane Smith. 2019
I didn’t know Dave Eggers was writing picture books these days, but I did know he has a way with words. And a way with young people…& young people & words. Here the fun is in imagining what’s most likely to be seen, heard, & encountered tomorrow. From the mundane to the ridiculous in rhyme & Lane Smith’s illustrations, tomorrow never looked so silly–& appealing. We’ll all be there!
Howes, Katey. Be a Maker. Illus. by Elizabet Vukovic. 2019
A fun counterpoint to Eggers’s book about tomorrow, this one’s all about today. When you wake, what will you make, it asks? The possibilities are endless. In rhyming couplets & illustrations jam-packed with inspiration, we follow a young merry maker as she joins forces with a kindred spirit to contribute to a community playground. The entreaty to “Make a difference, shine a light. Make your town a team tonight.” is the stirring message here.
Maclear, Kyo. Story Boat. Illus. by Rashin Kheiriyeh. 2020
When is a cup or a blanket or an X drawn on cold, hard ground a home? It’s when children & families are on a desperate march to find safety somewhere away from where they’ve been–yesterday, last week, last year. I can’t imagine a more beautiful–or heartbreaking–picture book about child refugees than this. Hope is elusive, but a sense of belonging can be found in the familiar–a cup of something warm, a dream shared under a well-worn blanket, a song sung under the moon & stars. The illustrator dedicates her artwork to “all innocent Syrian children who have experienced horrible war & injustice at a young age.”
Singh, Rina. Grandmother School. Illus. by Ellen Rooney. 2020
This lively picture book by Indian-Canadian author, Singh, tells the true story of the Aajibaichi Shala, or Grandmother School, begun in 2016 in the Indian village of Phangane. A young girl shares her granny, Aaji’s, excitement for learning from morning till night—escorting her to the one-room bamboo hut where grannies in pink saris gather to learn to read & write, till the evening when they swap school stories & homework help. Aaji relishes her time learning & the new independence it affords her in the community. Her dear granddaughter celebrates each success with her.
Yang, James. A Boy Named Isamu: A Story of Isamu Noguchi. 2021
I thought the name was familiar. Noguchi’s sculpture, Black Sun, has been at home in Seattle’s Volunteer Park outside what’s now known as the Asian Art Museum since 1969. This spare story about the sculptor is as delicate as our hometown piece is dramatic. It imagines young Isamu preferring the company of nature to people, solitude to crowds. He’s drawn to the forest but also the nearby beach where he walks alone, carefully considering everything about the stones there. To Isamu (& the author-illustrator who admires him) to be alone in nature is not the same as feeling lonely. It’s a different & powerful kind of belonging.
Yang, Kao Kalia. A Map Into the World. Illus. by Seo Kim. 2019
This is a lovely collaboration between Hmong American writer, Yang & illustrator, Kim. As the seasons change, so does a young girl’s world. A meditation on all sorts of longing & belonging. There’s a new house; baby brothers she’s too small to tend & they’re too small to be fun; elderly neighbors—one of whom passes away during the snowy winter. It’s with the passage of time, a keen eye & a bucket of sidewalk chalk that she makes a friend of the lonely widower & eases the longing they’ve both felt.