I wrote this essay in appreciation for Jan Mark. Jan was a two-time winner of the Carnegie Medal, the award given to England’s most outstanding work of children’s literature. I studied with Jan in the early 1980s.
I was creating Classroom Connections for one of my books, and my editor suggested I include information about SEL- which is Social and Emotional Learning. Understanding our emotions, becoming aware of others, and finding relevant books to help us understand ourselves and others are included within Social and Emotional Learning. My illustrator partner for Luis Paints the World, Oliver Dominguez, has a new book out, Nacho’s Nachos. I’ve included it on a list of these new picture books by Latinx authors and illustrators. They all have characters with changing emotions and one thing reading surly offers kids is a path to understanding others’ emotional and social worlds and steps to make sense of their own.
All Around Us by Xelena Gonzalez, illustrated by Adriana M. Garcia (Cinco Puntos Press)
A grandfather and granddaughter have an adventure together, seeing everything in the shape of circles, the natural world, each other’s eyes, and the circle of life.
Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal (Candlewick Press)
Alma has a very long name. “Too long, if you asked her.” But when her father describes all the wonderful people she’s named for, she likes her name just fine.
Here Comes Ocean by Meg Fleming, illustrated by Paola Zakimi (Beach Lane Books)
Paola Zakimi, who is from Patagonia, Argentina, brings a stunning artistic perspective to a young boy who’s in awe of the seashore. Illustrations of a startled big-eyed horseshoe crab, sandpipers, sand dollars ,and Meg Fleming’s poetic lines are pure joy.
Mango Moon by Diane de Anda, illustrated by Sue Cornelison (Albert Whitman)
A realistic story about a U.S. child who’s father has been deported to a country she has never seen. The mango moon represents a memory she has of the last time she saw her father. Through the moon, she holds on to a feeling of connection to him. A young reader could study these illustrations and read the emotion in the characters’ faces.
My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, illustrated by Zeke Peña (Random House)
A mad cap ride on a motorcycle, a love story between a little girl and her carpenter dad, and an ode to a city, the author’s Corona, California, this story is huge fun to read aloud. The child captures her home town in flux as her dad shows her the new homes they are building in the citrus groves,
Nacho’s Nachos, the Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack by Sandra Nickel, illustrated by Oliver Dominguez (Lee and Low)
Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya really did create the first nachos. Illustrator Oliver Dominguez said, “Creating this book always made me hungry, and I loved it. I had to indulge my creativity and make my own nacho plate and use it as inspiration and reference.”
Swashby and the Sea by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (Houghton Mifflin)
Swashby is having no part of the little girl and her granny who move into the cottage next door to his quiet cabin by the sea. Martinez-Neal and Ferry create an irrepressible child who sings to him and draws him into her play. Can you guess who has a moment with new emotions?
Everybody has a story and it’s made up of moments – this moment – of a story. These prompts are about a moment. Scribbles on a page. (I do mine really early in the morning, but if you’re a teen, you might do yours on the phone in the dark late at night.) These are for everybody, teens, kids, adults. No rules. Be a poet. Write a text. Write a paragraph. Make it true. Make it up. Turn the prompt upside down. You are creating the world! The prompts are to tap into your experience, your memory, your imagination. Stay in touch. What happened? My goal – to post a prompt on Instagram every week.Read more
Whoosh, best friends with Joseph even if he doesn’t know it, is coming back in a new picture book. A Feast for Joseph, a book I co-wrote with OD Bonny, is coming out with Groundwood Books. We’ve just seen artist Ken Daley’s roughs, what they call the illustrations before the art is finalized. With full stomachs after a feast where they brought their families together, Joseph and Whoosh are dancing under the moon. Ahhh. Ken drew Whoosh – below – sliding down the railing to Joseph who is trying to get a ride on her bike in Joseph’s Big Ride. (She finally lets him.)
OD and I met when he wrote a rap song for Viola (in The Good Braider). I love this book we’ve done together because with OD, it’s an Acholi story. OD says, this is me when I was growing up. He came to Portland from Kyangwali refugee camp in Uganda. Together we re-imagined Joseph as a small boy in Kyangwali before he came to Portland. We made discovery after discovery together about Joseph. For instance, in Kyangwali, he played the awal, a percussion instrument you hit with a wire comb. Our book first went to the art department at Groundwood where the art director did a rough layout. Now Ken Daly, who will do final art by the end of the year. Then printing in Asia. A Feast for Joseph arrives in 2021!
Why do tortoises have no hair? You’ve probably wondered where tortoises’s hair has gone. Here, in the illustration below, is where his problem started, with the scent of the frying mandazi. (East African doughnut.) You’ll see he has hair.
The tortoise tale is written and illustrated by Maxwell Abwamba. He graduated from high school in 2014 and now works for Vibrant Villages in Luanda, according to my friend Mark Bean, founder of Amesbury for Africa. Maxwell is also a freelance artist and illustrator in his western Kenyan town. He wrote the book in his local language, Lunyore. Through the digital African Storybook project, the book is available internationally both in Lunyore and English. Click on the title to read Why Tortoises Don’t Have Hair. Maxwell and I are messaging over Facebook as I write this, and he just wrote, “It was told to me by my grade one teacher. We used to learn mother tongue which was later removed out of Kenyan Syllabus.” These stories are working to keep local languages alive and also to give us on the other side of the world a chance to see the words in languages we may never have the chance to hear or know.
African Storybook brings to us “picture books in the languages of Africa.” There are stories in 111 languages, ones spoken in sub-Saharan countries. It’s a project of Saide, Enabling Successful Open Learning for All, located in Johannesburg. African Storybook also has an app that can be downloaded free to make a storybook.
Finally, here’s a recipe for mandazi, and if you smelled these light, flaky doughnuts frying, you’d almost understand why the tortoise would sacrifice his hair for them.