Once again, I have spent the last few weeks reading through some brilliant new picture books. These books cover a wide variety of topics from vehicles to dinosaurs, racism to space exploration, and I’m sure there is something in this selection that you will enjoy reading with your own children.
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Dogs Love to Ride by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov
My first book in this selection was a truly adorable picture book. Dogs Love to Ride by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov introduces a whole range of lovable pups and the vehicles they love to ride in. A trio of noisy dogs howl along with the music in their family’s minivan, a poodle gets a new windswept hairdo in its owner’s bright pink Cadillac, and a pair of dalmatians sit proudly aboard the fire truck on their way to a rescue.
As well as the dogs, there’s a wide range of careers on display on these pages including handyman, sheriff, and pizza delivery driver. Those jobs, and those enjoying more leisurely trips as well, are diversely illustrated too. Sophie loved spotting a Black female firefighter, an Asian family, a female long-distance trucker, and that the driver of the pink Cadillac appeared to be male while the driver of the red muscle car was female.
I have to admit that the rhyming text occasionally left something to be desired with some awkward choices and clumsy phrasing that made it not flow as well as it could when read out loud, however, that was more than made up for by the stunning and detailed illustrations that brought a smile to my face on every page. The vehicles are all depicted in fantastic detail that will delight little vehicle fans, and all the dogs are smiling as they lean out of the various windows.
At the conclusion, we see all the dogs doing the one thing they love more than riding: running, as they all spend time at the dog park together. It’s a wonderfully happy conclusion to a book filled with joy that will certainly brighten up even the most miserable of days.
Little Leonardo’s Fascinating World of Paleontology by Jeff Bond, Illustrated by Greg Paprocki
Next up was my first foray into the Little Leonardo series, illustrated by one of my favorite children’s book artists: Greg Paprocki. In Little Leonardo’s Fascinating World of Paleontology by Jeff Bond, we learn all about the science of paleontology.
The first half of the book explains what fossils are, how they are formed, how scientists find and preserve them, and what we can learn from studying them, all with stunning illustrations in the background. There’s a lot of quite complex scientific language included here—words like matrix, sedimentology, and ontogeny put in an appearance making this a book for slightly older kids or those with a slightly deeper knowledge than most picture books would assume.
The second half of the book is given over to a number of thematically relevant experiments that can be performed at home—fossilizing a sponge, creating fossils from plaster, and even excavating chocolate chips from a cookie! There’s also a glossary covering most of those tricky words from the first half of the book complete with a pronunciation guide.
This would be a fantastic book for dinosaur-obsessed youngsters looking to read something more in-depth without overwhelming them with huge blocks of text. The glossary will allow them to work through the new subject-specific language themselves, building confidence along with the knowledge. I was really impressed with this Little Leonardo book and know I’ll be picking up more of them in the future.
Rectangle Time by Pamela Paul, Illustrated by Becky Cameron
My third choice for this round-up is Rectangle Time by Pamela Paul, a charming and heartfelt story told from the perspective of a family cat.
Our nameless feline narrator introduces us to their human family—a father and son who enjoy sharing books together, what the cat refers to as “Rectangle Time.” In the beginning, the rectangles are large and the humans happily stroke the cat whilst reading together, snuggled up in bed. The cat knows they are vitally important to the process, a “soft, fluffy, non-rectangular” shape like them helps to “offset those sharp corners.”
However, as the years go by, the rectangles begin to shrink and the humans spend their Rectangle Time alone, focused intently on the pages which makes it difficult for them to stroke the cat. When the cat tries to push in and remind the humans of their presence, they are pushed away—especially when the cat tries lying on the rectangle to enhance it. The cat and their humans will need to find a way to get back to enjoying Rectangle Time together.
This is a wonderful story for anyone who has enjoyed a pet cat trying to “help” at storytime. The relationships between both the cat and their humans, and also between the father and son are beautifully illustrated—I especially loved seeing the family Polaroids on the end pages and spotting the books the son was reading as he grew up, beginning with The Snowy Day and moving through Go, Dog, Go to The Hobbit. It was also great to see some representation of what appeared to be a single-parent family with the dad taking on the role of reading aloud and later, teaching his son to read.
I would recommend this to all cat-lovers, but parents should take note that if they do not currently own a cat, this book will almost certainly convince kids to start pestering for a furry reading buddy of their own!
Our Skin: A First Conversation About Race by Megan Madison and Jessica Ralli, Illustrated by Isabel Roxas
Next is a book to help parents have conversations about what can often be a difficult topic. Our Skin by Megan Madison and Jessica Ralli is designed as a primer to help encourage parents and kids to talk about race and racism together, no matter the color of their skin.
This diversely illustrated picture book begins by introducing the very basics: we all have skin and it comes in a wide variety of colors from very light to very dark. The book encourages kids to look around and notice the variety of skin tones around them, in their families, and out and about in public. Later, the book begins to explain why these differences exist (a basic discussion about melanin), how we use different words to help us describe groups of people, and introduces the idea of race being a social construct through some very simplified history. Throughout, one point is made clear, while we can use language to group people by their skin color or race, that grouping doesn’t tell you much about an individual person.
The final section of Our Skin is given over to racism. Again, this is understandably simplified, however, there’s still plenty to discuss here as the book explains the different ways racism can exist: as a system of beliefs about race, as unfair rules, as ideas, and as tradition. It also makes it clear that racism can happen both on purpose and also by mistake, and that both hurt, regardless of the intention behind them. At the end of the book is a section for adults that offers guidance on how to discuss eight different subjects with your kids including racism, stereotypes and prejudice, identity terms, and more.
This is a fabulous book that has (very importantly) been co-authored by both a Black and a white author, both of whom are experts in early childhood education. Considering its short length, Our Skin packs a great deal of information into its minimal pages while never becoming overwhelming, meaning it can be shared with even the youngest children (the book notes that children start categorizing people by skin color from as young as six months old). And, while this is a picture book, it’s also great as a starting point for talking to older kids with whom you might never have had a specific conversation about race. The sections for adults are especially useful as they offer clear guidance on how to approach subjects that many of us might tiptoe around for fear of saying the wrong thing.
This is the first in series of First Conversations books that will cover “tough topics” such as race and gender. Based on this one, I will absolutely be picking up the second book—Being You—later this year.
Celestina the Astronaut Ballerina by Donald Jacobsen, Illustrated by Graham Evans
My final two book choices this month are both space-related, perfect to keep the inspiration flowing to kids who recently watched the Perseverance rover land on Mars. First up is Celestina the Astronaut Ballerina by Donald Jacobsen. In this book, a young girl named Celestina dreams of becoming an astronaut and walking on the Moon. However, she is ridiculed by her friends, laughed at by teachers, and told to tone down her dreams by the adults in her life. Instead, she is encouraged to take up ballet dancing as a more realistic career goal.
That is until a new teacher arrives at her school. Miss Stella encourages all the students in her class to strive for their dreams, no matter how difficult they might be to achieve. She pushes Celestina to once again pursue her goal of becoming an astronaut and, with that encouragement behind her, Celestina goes on to achieve not her original goal of walking on the Moon, but something even greater.
I was initially concerned that the premise of the book would belittle ballet dancing and run with a narrative that being an astronaut is “better” than settling for something more “girly” like dancing. Instead, it simply explores the idea that no one should be forced into a career they do not want simply because others feel that it is a better choice. Being a ballerina is never seen as lesser or undesirable—it is even pointed out that ballet dancing helped make Celestina strong and that becoming a professional ballerina is a “great ambition”—but it is not the right fit for Celestina herself.
This was a lovely book in verse that will help convince kids that they can achieve their dreams, no matter how unachievable they may have been led to believe they are. It was great to see Celestina go from a slightly depressed child to an accomplished adult, and I loved seeing how a teacher (especially one who looked like Celestina) was the person who pushed her to strive for what she really wanted in life.
The Stars Beckoned: Edward White’s Amazing Walk in Space by Candy Wellins, Illustrated by Courtney Dawson
My final book in this roundup is The Stars Beckoned: Edward White’s Amazing Walk in Space by Candy Wellins. This cute picture book follows the life of Edward White, the first American to walk in space and who later died in the Apollo I disaster.
The book begins with White’s childhood where he would look up at the stars from his garden until made to come inside by his parents. White later trained to become a pilot like his father and joined the U.S. Air Force, clocking up over 3000 hours in a jet and eventually training to be an astronaut. When White became the first astronaut to complete a spacewalk, he didn’t want to come back inside the capsule, but eventually, his desire to see his family once again made the Earth beckon to him instead of the stars for the very first time.
The Stars Beckoned is told in flowing verse that makes it a joy to read aloud, and the repeating refrain of “He’d resist, but then he’d go, walking back… so slow… so slow,” is a great tribute to White’s famous refusal to reenter his capsule when first instructed to by Mission Control, especially when contrasted with the change to the line at the end of the story. The book ends with a short but more detailed biography and a timeline of White’s life for those wanting to learn more. These both mention his death in a fire but thankfully avoid any of the more gruesome details that would be upsetting to young readers (and many adults too).
This was a beautifully written book that cannot help but have an air of tragedy over it knowing what would become of White just 18 months after he achieves this amazing accomplishment. It will make a great primer for school projects but parents should be aware if encouraging kids to study White that further reading may throw up upsetting information.
GeekMom received a copy of this item for review purposes.