Before I delve into my list, I want to make a few clarifications. You might be asking yourself, what is Children’s literature, exactly? Well, defining what fits and doesn’t within the realm of Children’s Literature is a bit tricky. Some of the works that are considered part of the canon of Children’s Literature, like Alice in Wonderland, were not originally written with children in mind as potential readers; the category of Children’s Literature as we know it nowadays is a fairly recent construction. This list, atone with the aforementioned definition, will feature books that were written with one potential reader-listener in mind: children.
The Undefeated – Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson
Let’s start our list with a tribute. The Undefeated, written by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, puts the historical contributions and achievements of African-American folk in the spotlight. This book can be thought of as a response to the systematic invisibilization of the accomplishments of artists, athletes, thinkers and leaders of African descent in the U.S. and abroad. Aside from shedding some light on several valuable historical figures, The Undefeated also manages to acknowledge the sufferings and oppression of people of color in a way that’s both didactic and digestible for small children.
My Papi has a Motorcycle- Isabel Quintero and Zeke Peña
Representation was one of the strong points of Children’s literature in 2019. My Papi has a Motorcycle, written by Isabel Quintero and Illustrated by Zeke Pena, manages to narrate a story packed with significant details about the experience of being Latino in the U.S. Plus, I believe that Quintero’s endearing story about a girl that goes for motorcycle rides with her dad reshapes gender stereotypes associated with Latino masculinity and femininity, as well as exposing children to code-switching between English and Spanish.
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in The Sky- Kwame Mbalia
Very few children’s books and movies feature African-American protagonists. It is in response to that appalling fact that Kwame Mbalia chose to create Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in The Sky, a story that takes from, and focuses on, West African and African American mythology and culture. This book was published under the Rick Riordan Presents imprint series, which features books connected to ancient myths. We had Percy Jackson and Greek mythology, it was about time African American and West African mythology were given space in mainstream publishing.
Hold Hands – Sara Varon
This book is perfect for small children who are just starting to read by themselves, or those who enjoy being told stories before bed. Sara Varon’s Hold Hands offers a rhyming story for toddlers about friendship and the many meanings and uses of hand-holding. We hold hands more than we think we do: when little, we do so to cross streets safely; later in life, we hold the hand of the person we love (whether family, friend, or a tad more than that), and we hold hands each time we’re saying goodbye to someone. Varon’s book explores a small, yet profound gesture. If your job includes small children, you should really consider buying this book for storytelling purposes.
I Miss My Grandpa- Jin Xiaojing
Xiaojing explores nostalgia and idealization through the voice of a girl that never got to meet her grandparent in person, yet learns about him from his mementos and her family’s oral narratives. In I Miss my Grandpa, the narration is deeply moving, and it connects readers to an experience that is more common than they might like to acknowledge, especially for those children that grow up far away from their relatives. Although sad, Xiaojing’s novel leaves a sweet trace in the mind; despite the fact that we might not get to meet all of our relatives in person, there is always a chance to get to know them through those who knew them before us.
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