Daddy & Dada

When Ryan Brockington and Isaac Webster started looking for books for their daughter showing families with two dads (like theirs), they discovered the massive hole in the market for LGBTQ+ representation in children’s books. Fortunately for all of us, they decided to address the issue by writing their own book, Daddy & Dada, and I’m thrilled to share it with you all today.

This sweet picture book follows a young girl named Rumi as she introduces us to her family, including her two dads, baby brother, and dog. Rumi narrates in a straightforward, conversational voice (like most four-year-olds would) and highlights a number of diverse family structures, creating both a window and a mirror for young readers. Just in time for Father’s Day and Pride Month, Daddy & Dada is a wonderful celebration of all families, and the many combinations of people that make a family.

The illustrations by Lauren May are absolutely adorable. The bold colors reminded me of Saturday morning cartoons during my childhood. Lauren truly captured the love of a happy family and brought the warmth of a happy home to the pages.

Daddy & Dada officially releases tomorrow, but you can preorder your copy today wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)

To learn more about Ryan, Issac, and their family, be sure to follow them on Instagram: @rybrockington and @realisaacwebster.

Lauren May is a freelance illustrator based in New England. Please visit her website at monstertea.party to learn more about her and her work.

Ryan and Isaac’s story really spoke to me, because it reminds me of my journey to create Mutually Inclusive to make a space for all families to find themselves in books. So I want to make sure I thank both Little Brown Books For Young Readers for providing me with a review copy of Daddy & Dada, and Ryan and Isaac for creating such an inclusive book for children to see their families in. I’m so happy to “meet” their family and to share Daddy & Dada with families looking for representation in children’s books.

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The Neighborhood Surprise

Sarah van Dongen’s debut, The Neighborhood Surprise, is a lovely picture book, but be warned – don’t read it when you’re hungry. This sweet book is all about food and some of the different ways it can be prepared.

In The Neighborhood Surprise we are introduced to a young girl named Koya, her friends Hassan and Alex, and their favorite neighbor, Mrs. Fig. When the trio of children hear that Mrs. Fig is moving to a retirement home, they plan a surprise going away party for her. The whole neighborhood gets involved, and they are all sure to include vegan and vegetarian options for the vegan and vegetarian households in their neighborhood. With a cute surprise ending, The Neighborhood Surprise really captures the warmth of a closely knit community and the way neighbors can support one another.

This is also a fantastic resource for children who are curious about veganism and vegetarianism. The author’s note in the back offers a few definitions along with reasons people might eat this way, opening the door to further conversation.

The illustrations are really fun, and I especially enjoy the detail in the spreads where we see neighbors cooking with their families. Each spread gives a wonderful glimpse into each home in the neighborhood, providing us with lots of visual character development.

The Neighborhood Surprise is available wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)

Sarah van Dongen is a debut children’s book author and illustrator. You can learn more about her and her work at sarahvandongen.com.

I would also like to thank Tiny Owl and Myrick Marketing and Media for providing me with a review copy of this lovely book.

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Last Gate Of The Emperor

If you’re looking for a book for a middle grader, I have a treat for you today.

Last Gate of the Emperor by Kwame Mbalia and Prince Joel Makonnen could be described as Black Panther meets Ready Player One set in a mythical Ethiopia in outer space. With elements of both science fiction and fantasy, this page turning Afrofuturist tale follows a young boy named Yared as he joins the Hunt for Kaleb’s Obelisk – an augmented reality game that will change his life forever.

Yared lives a lonely life in the city of Addis Prime. He was raised by his nervous Uncle Moti, who moved them around a lot growing up. Uncle Moti tells him tales of an empire called Axum and war that spans the galaxy. Yared’s only friend is the bionic lioness Bessa gifted to him by his uncle when he was a small child. Despite his isolated life, Yared is a typical quick-witted kid, full of bravado.

Our story begins as Yared sneaks out of school to join The Hunt For Kaleb’s Obelisk. He learns that some of the rules have changed – not only is he required to enter his real name into the game to play, but he is also forced to partner up with his biggest rival in the game, a young girl called the Ibis. Suddenly, nothing goes according to plan, and instead of jumping to the top of the leaderboards, Yared and the Ibis find themselves in the middle of an attack on the city.

The stories Uncle Moti has been telling Yared for years seem to be coming to life, but as Yared starts putting puzzle pieces together, he realizes his Uncle has disappeared. Yared and the Ibis decide to work together to find Uncle Moti, and along the way, Yared learns that his life as he knows it may not be exactly what it seems.

I don’t want to give everything away, but I have to tell you: this book as fantastic. I can easily see this becoming a very successful series, and even having comics, cartoons, or movies. The characters are all very relatable and likable (for the most part anyway).

With nods to Prince Joel Makonnen’s childhood experiences growing up as the great-grandson of the last emperor of Ethiopia, His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I, readers will learn about Ethiopia’s rich history in unexpected ways. I specifically appreciated the afterword that sheds light on that history and points out all the ways it influenced the book.

Last Gate of the Emperor is available now wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)

Kwame Mbalia is a New York Times bestselling author who lives in North Carolina with his family. Please visit his website at kwamembalia.com to learn more about him and his work.

Prince Joel Makonnen is a direct descendant of Ethiopian royalty, Co-Founder and CEO of Old World // New World, and a lawyer based in Washington DC. To learn more about him, please visit his website at princeyoel.com.

Thank you so much to Scholastic Books for sending a review copy of Last Gate of the Emperor. I can’t wait to see if the adventure continues in a sequel!

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On the Trapline

I have another wonderful intergenerational story for y’all today.

From David A. Robertson and Julie Flett, the creators of When We Were Alone, On the Trapline is a stunning picture book that highlights indigenous values, including the deep connections to family and the land.

In this book, we meet a young Cree boy who is accompanying his Moshom (grandfather) on a trip to visit a place that is dear to his heart. They are going to the trapline, a place where his grandfather grew up hunting game with his family.

Throughout the book, the boy sees the places his grandfather grew up, listening to the stories of his childhood. He sees the house by the lake that his family stayed in, the school his grandfather attended, and finally, they reach the trapline. He learns about the way the entire family slept in a tent, the food they ate, and the animals they trapped. On each page, young readers learn a Swampy Cree word, with pronunciation guides provided in the back matter.

As always, Julie Flett’s illustrates are absolute perfection. I really appreciated the way she captured both the past and present in the illustrations. My personal favorites are two mirrored illustrations in which one page captures the grandfather’s story of sneaking into the bush at school to speak Cree, and the next page shows our narrator, his Moshom, and his Moshom’s old friend in the same bush years later. I found myself turning the pages to compare the landscapes, noting how trees and mushrooms had grown in the grandfather’s absence.

The back matter contains both an Author’s Note and Illustrator’s Note detailing their personal connections with this story, highlighting the authentic voices that are present throughout the book.

On the Trapline would make for an amazing Father’s Day gift. It is available now wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)

David A. Robertson is a member of Norway House Cree Nation and an award-winning children’s book author based in Winnipeg. To learn more about him and his work, please visit his website at darobertson.ca.

Julie Flett is an award-winning Cree-Metis author, illustrator, and artist based in Vancouver. Please visit her website at julieflett.com to learn more about her and her work.

Thank you so much to Tundra Books for generously providing me with a review copy of this wonderful book. It was an absolute delight and I know I will be revisiting it many times.

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Nosotros Means Us: Un cuento bilingüe

Nosotros Means Us: Un cuento bilingüe by Paloma Valdivia is a beautiful bilingual picture book highlighting the unconditional love between a mother and a child, told in both English and Spanish.

In this precious book, we follow along as a mother tells her child all about the ways she would love them if they were different animals. On the first few pages, our little family is depicted as matching animals, like a sheep and lamb, but there is a twist. The mother tells her child that one day they will leave, and both mother and child will grow into something else, but the child should know that she will always love them. Because they will always be mother and child.

I love the way Nosotros Means Us uses translated words to talk about the way the mother and child’s relationship would translate if they were different animals. I found it to be a very clever way to add a more complex layer to a perfectly simple concept, and it made such a powerful storytelling technique.

The illustrations are marvelous. I love the depictions of the different animals, but the color scheme is my absolute favorite. I love the perfectly minimalist style and the way the colors jump off every page.

Nosotros Means Us officially releases next week (May 11, 2021), but be sure to preorder this one as a Mother’s Day gift for the mothers in your life. You can preorder today anywhere books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)

Paloma Valdivia is a children’s book author and illustrator based in Chile. To learn more about her and her work, please visit her website at palomavaldivia.cl.

I want to thank Knopf Books For Young Readers and Random House Children’s Books for providing me with a review copy of this wonderful book. I can’t wait to read it with my little one!

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Prince and Knight: Tale Of The Shadow King

I’m so excited to share Prince And Knight: Tale of The Shadow King with you all today! This follow up to Prince and Knight was one of my most anticipated titles of 2021, and it exceeded my expectations. Like Prince and Knight, Tale of The Shadow King is another modern inclusive fairy tale and continues the story of the prince and knight after their wedding.

In Tale of The Shadow King, our heroes have a big problem to solve – a fog of darkness is covering their kingdom, blocking out all the light. We follow along as our brave heroes set out to find the source of this darkness – the Shadow King. Along the way, they save each other from harm, mirroring the first book of the series. After traveling the land and fighting off monsters, our heroes find the Shadow King only to discover that he’s not at all what they expected.

I won’t spoil anything, but I will say this one has a happy ending, like most fairy tales. I really appreciate that the “bad guy” isn’t really a bad person. By offering the Shadow King’s backstory, Tale Of The Shadow King encourages empathy, acceptance, and understanding for young readers.

Though Prince and Knight had no challenges to the couple’s queerness, Tale of The Shadow King discusses the queer experience with a bit more nuance. It touches on both the harm caused to queer folk when they are not accepted for who they are and highlights the health and happiness that comes from living authentically. I believe Tale of The Shadow King will be a wonderful conversation starter about the way we should love our queer friends, family, and neighbors.

Once again, the illustrations by Stevie Lewis are wonderful! I loved seeing the familiar faces of the prince and knight, but the way she captured the Shadow King is so beautiful. I think he might be my new favorite character in the series.

Tale of The Shadow King is available wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)

Daniel Haack is a children’s book author and Emmy Award-winning children’s media executive. To learn more about him and his work, please visit his website at www.danielhaack.com.

To learn more about Stevie Lewis and her other work (including one of my recent favorites, Fatima’s Great Outdoors), please visit her website at chocosweete.com.

I want to thank Little Bee Books not only for providing me with a review copy of this wonderful book, but for the continued dedication to promoting LGBTQ+ acceptance through children’s books. As a queer person, it means the world to me for my son and all the other little ones growing up right now to have these books at their fingertips. These were not resources I had as a kid, but I am so grateful for them now.

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Sakamoto’s Swim Club: How A Teacher Led An Unlikely Team To Victory

Ya’ll know I love a picture book biography, and I have to tell you that Sakamoto’s Swim Club by Julie Abery might be one of my new favorites. With simple rhyming text, this book tells the little-known story of Soichi Sakamoto, a science teacher who dedicated his life to coaching hundreds of Hawaiian children on the Three-Year Swim Club.

Sakamoto’s Swim Club starts out simply enough. We see a sugar plantation and children swimming in an irrigation ditch, along with a police officer who chases them away as a teacher looks on from his classroom. I was hooked!

As the story unfolds, we follow Soichi Sakamoto’s journey to becoming a swimming coach. After coming to an agreement with Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company, Sakamoto began training children to swim in the plantation’s irrigation ditch. Though he was not a powerful swimmer himself, he used his background in science to develop training techniques.

After Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company built a community swimming pool, Sakamoto and his team began training daily to reach their dream of competing in the 1940 Olympics. Unfortunately, World War II kept the Three- Year Swim Club from reaching this goal, but in 1948, one of Sakamoto’s students, Bill Smith, took home the gold for the 400-meter freestyle race.

Sakamoto’s Swim Club is a wonderful story of determination and persistence, encouraging children to work hard for their dreams and never give up.

Chris Sasaki’s illustrations are absolute perfection. I love the vibrancy of the colors and the way they capture the beauty of Maui, but I really appreciate the way they pair perfectly with the sparse text. Sasaki’s experience in animation really shows in the way he tells a story through his illustrations.

This is such a unique picture book biography because it is told in simple verse, making for a great read aloud. The back matter contains a wonderful author’s note detailing the specifics of the Three-Year Swim Club’s journey to the gold.

Sakamoto’s Swim Club officially releases next week, but you can preorder your copy today wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)

Julie Abery is children’s book author and former illustrator based in Lausanne, Switzerland. To learn more about her and her work, please visit her website at littleredstoryshed.wordpress.com.

Chris Sasaki is an illustrator, animation art director, and writer based in Oakland, California. Please visit his website at csasaki.com to learn more about him and his work.

Many thanks to Kids Can Press for providing me with a review copy of Sakamoto’s Swim Club. I can’t wait to share this one with my little swimmer.

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Many Shapes of Clay: A Story of Healing

I am so happy to share Many Shapes of Clay by Kenesha Sneed with you all today. This wonderful picture book is not just about loss, but about healing through the creative process.

Many Shapes of Clay is a modern day fable in which we follow a young girl named Eisha as she works alongside her mother in her studio. Eisha uses clay to make a shape that makes her happy because it reminds of of her father whom she has recently lost. She brings her shape out into her neighborhood, where it shatters into lots of different pieces. When Eisha brings the pieces to her mother, she knows just how to make her shape into something new altogether.

I don’t talk about this often, but I lost my father back in 2008. I was 19 years old, newly married, and soon to move across the country when my entire world shattered like Eisha’s beautiful lemon shape. I know I wasn’t the target picture book audience when my father died, but I wish I had this book then. It took me and my three siblings years to figure out how to even begin healing. The way Many Shapes of Clay highlights that healing process through community and creativity is not only beautiful, but a vital message for those coping with loss.

I also appreciate the fact that Many Shapes of Clay highlights loss instead of death. Given the events of the last year, loss is on a lot of young readers’ minds — whether it’s the loss of a loved one, or losing playdates and in-person classes due to COVID. Because the focus is healing from loss, you can use Many Shapes of Clay as a resource to discuss the loss of our “normal” lives, making this a must have for any little reader’s library.

The illustrations are absolutely stunning. I love how the bold colors match both the powerful message of healing and the gentle atmosphere of the story.

Many Shapes of Clay is out next week (May 4, 2021), but I would recommend preordering it today. You can put your order in just about anywhere books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)

Kenesha Sneed is an award-winning multidisciplinary artist and the founder of Tactile Matter, a line of stoneware ceramics. To learn more about her and her work, please visit her websites at keneshasneed.com and tactilematter.com.

I want to thank both Kenesha for sharing her story, and Prestel Junior for providing me with a review copy of this stunning book. I’m so grateful to share it with you all today.

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We Are Still Here! – Native American Truths Everyone Should Know

Traci Sorell and Frané Lessac, the award-winning creators of We Are Grateful: Otsliheliga are back at it with a companion title: We Are Still Here!

We Are Still Here! is a nonfiction book documenting the challenges Native Nations have faced and the ways they continue to fight for their rights today. Focusing mainly on the actions taken by the United States Government, this book shares many lessons currently taught in Native-operated schools today.

The book actually uses a Native-operated school as its backdrop as we follow a class working on their Indigenous Peoples’ Day project. On the first page we are introduced to some “familiar” history, but each child’s presentation will focus on topics after treaty making stopped in 1871, such as forced assimilation, religious freedom, and economic development. Every child’s presentation drives home the fact that Native American History is still being made today.

Fans of We Are Grateful: Otsliheliga will be glad to find Frané Lessac’s familiar vibrant style continues into this companion book as well. Each spread depicts the subject of a child’s project, capturing both historical and contemporary Native American experiences.

The back matter contains lots of additional information about each of the twelve topics discussed in the children’s projects, as well as a glossary and timeline, making this title the perfect addition to classroom and school libraries.

We Are Still Here! officially releases tomorrow (April 20,2021), but you can preorder your own copy today where books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)

Traci Sorell is a dual citizen of the Cherokee Nation and The United States, and is an award-winning author of five children’s books. She lives in Oklahoma, where her tribe is located. To learn more about her and her work, please visit her website at tracisorell.com.

Frané Lessac is an award-winning author and illustrator of over fifty books. Please visit her website at franelessac.com to learn more about her and her work.

I would like to thank Charlesbridge Publishing for providing me with a review copy of We Are Still Here. I am honored to share such an important book and encourage young readers to learn more about Native American history.

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The Little Things: A Story About Acts of Kindness

I have to be honest with y’all, the past few weeks have been hard. With hate crimes against the AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) community, police brutality against the Black community, and targeted legislation attacking the trans community, all during a global pandemic, it can be hard to find a bright spot in our week.

So I was incredibly grateful to receive a copy of The Little Things by Christian Trimmer, because like all good children’s books, it taught me a lesson that I needed to be reminded of as an adult—the little things count, too.

This lesson can be so easy to forget as an adult during weeks like this. Watching the hatred and violence on full display, knowing the pain it causes people I love. Knowing it doesn’t actually affect me as a white cis woman. Knowing so many people like me turn a blind eye while people across our country face these injustices. It’s easy to feel small and insignificant. It’s easy to think that I can’t change anything for anyone. But then I read a book like The Little Things, and I am reminded why I do this. I am reminded of the power we all have.

This wonderful picture book follows several characters, starting with a young black girl (with three wonderful teal pigtails) who finds tons of starfish have washed ashore after a storm. As she spends her afternoon putting starfish back in the water, a man approaches her to ask her why she bothers — she won’t be able to save all the starfish. The girl acknowledges she won’t be able to save them all, but that she can make a difference for each starfish she saves. This message sticks with the man and inspires him to perform his own act of kindness. He shares the message with his grandson, who spreads it to the next person, and so on and so forth, spreading the message of kindness throughout the community, sparking a larger change in their town.

I absolutely adored the illustrations by Kaylani Juanita, who happens to be one of my very favorite illustrators. Fans of When Aiden Became A Brother and Magnificent Homespun Brown will be delighted to see that Kaylani’s character design is as strong as ever. I loved the diversity of the characters in this book, and you can clearly tell how much thought went into each individual.

The Little Things promotes a message of kindness and community action that is incredibly relevant today for readers young and old. It officially releases later this month (April 27, 2021), but you can preorder it today wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)

I absolutely adored this book, and it inspired me to write a list of little things we can all do to help the AAPI, Black, and trans communities in the wake of these issues. I will share it here for everyone who wants to try some little things that can make a big difference.

  • Check on your AAPI, Black, and trans friends. Note: This does not mean asking them to address the traumas they are facing. Just make sure they know they are loved, listen if they want to talk, but give them some extra love this week.
  • Engage children. Volunteer to host a virtual read aloud at your local school or library encouraging kindness and acceptance, or even directly addressing the issues with children’s books.
  • Contact your local representatives. Educate yourself on anti trans legislation in your area and ensure your local government is aware that you oppose it. Use your voice and demand an end to police brutality and qualified immunity for police officers. Bring their attention to the rising numbers of hate crimes against the AAPI community and ask them what they plan to do about it. Call, email, fax if you have to, but make sure they hear your voice.
  • Attend a protest. There are lots of protests being organized for this weekend. Join them. Or if you aren’t able to join, maybe you can contribute in another way. You can support local protests by providing financial support, childcare, transportation, or food for protestors in your community. Reach out to local organizations to see how you can assist.
  • Donate to the cause. Whether it’s a bail fund to assist protestors posting bail ( like Community Justice Exchange National Bail Fund, Chicago Community Fund, or Minnesota Freedom Fund) or organizations dedicated to facing the Asian American and Pacific Islander community (Asian Mental Health Collective, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, 18 Million Rising), the Black community (Black Youth Project, The Loveland Foundation, and NAACP) and the trans community (National Center for Transgender Equality, Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, Trans Life) or a national organization focusing on multiple issues (Human Rights Campaign, ACLU) there are countless organizations in need of your donation.
  • Support AAPI, Black, and trans creators. Donate to Patreon accounts, pay the POC online who are educating you for free. Purchase the works of folks from marginalized communities, like The Little Things. If you don’t have the funds to purchase this week, request that your local library purchase copies.
  • Uplift voices. Marginalized folks are sharing their stories every day. Hear Them. Believe them. Share them.

Christian Trimmer is an author and editor based in Hillsdale, New York. To learn more about him and his work, please visit his website at christiantrimmer.com.

Kaylani Juanita is an illustrator of inclusive picture books based in Fairfield, California. Please visit her website at kaylanijuanita.com to learn more about her and her work.

Thanks again to Abrams Books For Young Readers for proving me with another amazing book to review. The Little Things was just what I needed to put one foot in front of the other this week, and I hope it helps you and yours spread love and kindness through your community too. Together we can do big things.

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