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Enriching the "image libraries"

In his 2013 Horn Book article "Young Dreamers," Christopher Myers wrote: 

"Images matter. They linger in our hearts, vast 'image libraries' that color our actions and ideas, even if we don’t recognize them on a conscious level. The plethora of threatening images of young black people has real-life effects. But if people can see us as young dreamers, boys with hopes and doubts and playfulness, instead of potential threats or icons of societal ills, perhaps they will feel less inclined to kill us."

The following recent #OwnVoices picture books are excellent examples of titles that (quoting Myers) "augment and enrich the image libraries people carry in their hearts." Click on the links below for more about the book creators. This list is far from comprehensive — what are your favorites? See also Kim Parker's "Happy Anniversary: Stevie" and Nicholl Denice Montgomery's "Happy Anniversary: The People Could Fly"; consult the Coretta Scott King Book Award winners lists; follow The Brown Bookshelf; and look for America My Love, America My Heart by Daria Peoples-Riley, starred in the upcoming Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: The Pura Belpré Award at 25. With Saturday being Independent Bookstore Day, support your local indies, including Boston's only Black-owned bookstore (and Friend of the Horn BookFrugal Books


 I Am Every Good Thing
by Derrick Barnes; illus. by Gordon C. James
Preschool, Primary    Paulsen/Penguin    32 pp.    g
9/20    978-0-525-51877-8    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-525-51878-5    $10.99

Barnes and James reunite, after the multi-award-winning success of Crown (rev. 11/17), for this beautiful and necessary book that affirms Black boys and their right to thrive. James’s vibrant oil-paint illustrations harmoniously depict Black boys in motion, in contemplation, and in full vitality as they skateboard, swim, or stand contemplatively in the outdoors. Barnes’s refrain throughout the book of “I am” (“I am a roaring flame of creativity. / I am a lightning round of questions, and / a star-filled sky of solutions”) is a powerful, present-tense reminder that normalizes the robust lives Black boys deserve to live, in stark contrast to the dedication page, which lists a number of murdered Black men and boys, many of whom were denied their own boyhoods. I Am Every Good Thing lets Black boys know they are loved and valued just as they are, with unlimited possibilities. Movingly, one boy affirms for himself and for the reader, “I am not what they might call me, / and I will not answer to any name that is not my own.” Fortunately, Barnes and James provide us with a range of powerful, positive names to call Black boys as they urge us to see them, to love them, and to let them live their lives as they deserve. KIM PARKER

From the September/October 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Brown Baby Lullaby
by Tameka Fryer Brown; illus. by AG Ford
Preschool    Farrar    32 pp.    g
1/20    978-0-374-30752-3    $16.99

Chronicling the nighttime routine of a family, Brown has penned a bedtime story that is immediately warm and relatable for families with young children. We follow an Afro-Latinx couple as they finish their day with their little one and entreat him to “Look, mi hijo, at the sun / Setting now that day is done / Moonlight’s breaking, night’s begun / Come, my sweet brown baby.” Activities include cooking dinner while their “noisy rowdy baby” bangs on pots and pans, dinnertime during which the “independent baby” attempts to feed himself, bath time with a “silly splashy baby,” and a bedtime blessing of “Buenas noches, baby.” Double-page spreads portray the family dynamic: the mischievous grin between father and son during prayer time, the warm family hug as the parents dry baby off after a bath. While the facial expressions of the mother and father remain mostly peaceful and calm, illustrator Ford captures the toddler’s changing emotions as he goes through his nighttime routine. With the rhythmic text and engaging illustrations, here’s a book that could become part of yours. EBONI NJOKU

From the March/April 2020 Horn Book Magazine.

 Me & Mama 
by Cozbi A. Cabrera; illus. by the author 
Preschool, Primary    Millner/Simon    40 pp.    g 
8/20    978-1-5344-5421-7    $17.99 
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-5422-4    $10.99 

In the early morning, a young unnamed Black girl tiptoes through the house and past various sleeping family members, to be greeted by the smell of cinnamon and her mother’s good-morning song. Even though the day is rainy, it’s a wonderful time to “be everywhere Mama is.” Throughout her day, the child makes clever observations about the similarities and differences between herself and her mother. While she has less toothpaste on her toothbrush, both she and Mama know to brush “round my teeth with little circles.” As they prepare to go outside to take a nature walk, it’s noted that “Mama’s rain boots are / bigger than mine. / And they’re red” — however, both pairs make an excellent splash in puddles. The girl is also keen to acknowledge how she and her mother care for each other — after her hair is combed, she returns the favor, accentuating her mom’s thick curls with “the purply pink barrette…She calls it fuchsia.” At the end of her day (“Our day is done earlier than / Mama and Papa’s / It’s just that way when you’re growing”), mother and daughter read stories to each other. Drifting off to sleep, the young girl is content to dream, knowing “there’ll be me and Mama.” Celebrating the beautiful dark brown skin of the duo, and surrounded by various hues of blue, Cabrera’s color-saturated illustrations, a mix of single pages and double-page spreads, add to the gentle charm of the conversational text. Large and small pairs of everyday objects appear on the endpapers, bolstering the celebration of the mother/daughter relationship. EBONI NJOKU

From the January/February 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. 

 All Because You Matter
by Tami Charles; illus. by Bryan Collier
Preschool, Primary    Orchard/Scholastic    40 pp.    g
10/20    978-1-338-57485-2    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-338-67474-3    $10.99

A richly illustrated affirmation for Black children — especially boys. An African American expectant mother and father eagerly await the arrival of their child, embracing him even as he grows in utero. On the first double-page spread, a full moon appears, composed of overlapping petal shapes that form a tapestry, a quilt — a visual motif that soon becomes colorful patterns and images of African American faces. The visuals throughout whisper of the family’s African ancestry; the poetic text says, “You were dreamed of, like a knapsack full of wishes, carried on the backs of your ancestors as they created empires, pyramids, legacies.” Charles employs the word matter effectively as both noun and verb, emphasizing that because this child is made up of matter from the universe, he matters. When the mother reads to her son in her lap, the text pays homage to Rudine Sims Bishop’s framework, likening the book the pair is reading to a mirror in which the child can see the “same hair, same skin, same dreams.” After touching on the racism that Black children face, this tribute announces its uplifting climax in Collier’s loving illustrations of this brown-skinned child’s face, boldly inviting the audience to see — really see — him in all his beauty. Stunning. Powerful. Timely. Illustrated inspiration at its best. MICHELLE H. MARTIN

From the November/December 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 Milo Imagines the World
by Matt de la Peña; illus. by Christian Robinson
Primary    Putnam    40 pp.    g
2/21    978-0-399-54908-3    $18.99
Spanish ed.  978-0-593-35462-9    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-399-54909-0    $10.99

Harold and the Purple Crayon meets twenty-first-century urban realism in this picture book by the Last Stop on Market Street (rev. 1/15) author-illustrator team (simultaneously published in Spanish as Milo imagina el mundo). Milo, a diminutive brown-skinned boy with round glasses and a lime-green hat, boards a subway train with his big sister. While she plays games on her phone, Milo studies people and imagines lives for them through his notebook and colored pencils. Robinson’s art alternates between color-saturated, double-page-spread scenes of train activity and Milo’s sketches. Milo sees a boy wearing a suit and draws him as a prince arriving at his castle; for a wedding-gown-clad passenger, Milo draws her imagined ceremony. He then reimagines and re-illustrates many of his scenes, intentionally looking at his subjects in a different way. Milo and his sister finally reach their destination: a detention center, where they visit their incarcerated mother (the boy on the subway who was wearing a suit is visiting someone, too). As in Jacqueline Woodson’s picture book Visiting Day (rev. 11/02), the joy and parent-child love shine through, and the climax comes with Milo’s sharing of a special drawing he has created for his mother. This poignant, thought-provoking story speaks volumes for how art can shift one’s perspectives and enable an imaginative alternative to what is…or seems to be. MICHELLE H. MARTIN

From the March/April 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

A Place Inside of Me: A Poem to Heal the Heart
by Zetta Elliott; illus. by Noa Denmon
Primary, Intermediate    Farrar    32 pp.    g
7/20    978-0-374-30741-7    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-374-38863-8    $9.99

In this powerfully lyrical poem, Elliott articulates what resides “deep down inside” of the African American, skateboard-loving, first-person protagonist: joy, sorrow, fear, anger, hunger, pride, peace, and more. While the protagonist speaks, Denmon’s illustrations, primarily in blue, pale yellow, and mauve, depict the tween boy doing skateboard tricks (showing the bottom of his board that’s covered in peace and justice stickers) and spending time with friends, while muted backgrounds depict life in his urban neighborhood. This book delivers positivity, despite the inclusion of police brutality, a Black Lives Matter protest, and a vigil for the dead — all of which affirm the child’s realities. At school, when he presents his work to his classmates, great figures such as Mae Jemison, Jackie Robinson, Louis Armstrong, Maya Angelou, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. appear on the opposite mural-like page, inspiring him as he takes pride in the past. On a page with no white space, a group of multigenerational Black individuals with different skin tones, facial features, hairstyles, and expressions faces the reader. The boy declares them “triumphant & beautiful,” as faintly visible images of African women peer from the background, carrying baskets of food on their heads — referencing the ancestry of those in the foreground. A well-crafted, twenty-first-century love poem by two truth-telling Black women artists and activists. MICHELLE H. MARTIN

From the November/December 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Off to See the Sea
by Nikki Grimes; illus. by Elizabeth Zunon
Preschool    Sourcebooks    32 pp.    g
1/21    978-1-4926-3829-2    $17.99

It’s bath time for the child we first met in Bedtime for Sweet Creatures (rev. 1/20), and once again the youngster’s mother is the narrator. As in many households, here bath time is an occasion for imaginative play. Together mother and child pretend that the tub is a “soft-scented sea” through which the child swims, evading “monsters” (the child’s rubber ducky), diving beneath the waves for treasure, piloting tugboats through crashing waves. (Meanwhile, the mother notes, “I sneak shampoo into your silky, wet curls” — it’s not all fun and games.) When bath time is over, the mother lets the water out of the tub, and “together we watch the ocean swirl away.” Bold, lush illustrations contrast the cool blues and greens of the imaginative sea scenes with the glowing brown skin of the protagonists. When at last Dad arrives to carry the towel-wrapped child off to bed, the illustration depicts the mundane post-bath bathroom, with a puddle of water and bath toys on the floor, bringing the book’s listeners back to reality and providing a transition to, perhaps, their own bedtimes. Another joyful depiction of family life from this successful author-artist team. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

From the January/February 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 A Girl like Me
by Angela Johnson; illus. by Nina Crews
Preschool, Primary    Millbrook    40 pp.    g
2/20    978-1-5415-5777-2    $19.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5415-7891-3    $18.99

It seems not even the sky’s the limit for the imaginative, adventurous, inventive girls depicted in this inspirational picture book. Johnson’s upbeat text, paired with Crews’s innovative, exuberant photo collages, delivers a message of encouragement and empowerment. “I always dream,” reads the opening line, and the accompanying illustration presents close-ups of three young women of color, their eyes closed, against a patterned background of blues and purples. Subsequent spreads show each girl recounting fantastic dreams, which position them as superheroes “in Supergirl underwear…in flowing scarves and a cowgirl hat.” They fly, stand atop tall buildings, and dive deep into oceans; but most importantly, they resist others’ warnings, denials, and chastisement about “a girl like you.” As the story goes on, more young women join the scenes, offering an ever-broadening depiction of girlhood; the closing spread, featuring headshots of each of the participants, coupled with her own words about her dreams, grounds this interpretation in the lived realities of real children. This is not trite girl-power pablum; it’s a rallying cry for girls to reject limitations others might place on them and their dreams. MEGAN DOWD LAMBERT

From the March/April 2020 Horn Book Magazine.

 Black Is a Rainbow Color
by Angela Joy; illus. by Ekua Holmes
Primary    Roaring Brook    40 pp.
1/20    978-1-62672-631-4    $17.99

A young girl sits on her stoop contemplating the colors of the rainbow, then notes, “But my color is black…and there’s no black in rainbows.” There is, however, black in a crayon box, black in nature (“a feather in snow”), and black in fun (“the bottoms of summertime feet”). And the black of Black culture is rich indeed, as the succeeding pages show. The rhyming text uses familiar symbols and motifs (black-eyed peas, a cooking skillet “for bread to fry,” blues music) as well as allusions to specific examples of African American art, music, poetry, and literature (“Black are the birds in cages that sing”) to create a mosaic of a community and culture that survives and thrives. Holmes’s illustrations use heavy lines and strong colors with soft touches of collage detail to represent everyday children as well as the iconic figures referenced in the text. Details in the back matter increase the book’s value: there’s a playlist; an explication of selected phrases (“Robe on Thurgood’s Back”; “Dreams and Raisins”); several poems by Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar; “A Timeline of Black Ethnonyms in America” (from Negro to black to Black); and a bibliography (for adults). A treasure trove of positivity, strength, and pride for anyone seeking to uplift and educate young people. AUTUMN ALLEN

From the January/February 2020 Horn Book Magazine.

Saturday 
by Oge Mora; illus. by the author 
Preschool, Primary    Little, Brown    40 pp.    
10/19    978-0-316-43127-9    $18.99 
e-book ed.  978-0-316-43126-2    $9.99 

Mora (Thank You, Omu!, rev. 11/18) follows up her Caldecott Honor winner with another story built around family and community connection. On Saturdays, Ava and her mother (who works the rest of the week) spend the whole day together. They go to the library, the beauty shop, the park — and on this particular Saturday they are taking the bus to see a special puppet show. However, a series of misadventures derails their perfectly planned day. Following each disappointment (library storytime is canceled, a puddle-splash ruins their newly styled hair), Mom tries to make the best of things. In an optimistic refrain, she repeats, “Today will be special. Today will be splendid. Today is SATURDAY!” But when even Mom reaches her limit, Ava steps up. Mora’s gorgeous cut-paper and collage illustrations depict a colorful, bustling city. Bits of patterned paper and “old book clippings” underscore the author’s love of storytelling. Sound effects in the text (“ZOOOOM!” “WHOOOSHH!”) add energy and child appeal. This simple, well-crafted tale holds universal lessons for children and adults alike: things do not always go as planned; taking a breath and a moment can help us shift our perspectives when life gets challenging; and setting aside time and spending it with loved ones is special no matter what you do. MONIQUE HARRIS

From the September/October 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 Time for Kenny
by Brian Pinkney; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Greenwillow    40 pp.    g
1/21    978-0-06-073528-9    $17.99

Four brief stories take us through young Kenny’s day as he gets dressed, has an encounter with a monster-like vacuum cleaner, learns “no hands!” soccer skills, and resists bedtime. Pinkney’s text is both spare and engagingly lively — and the clean font and page design and use of repetition make this an excellent choice for both emerging readers and preschoolers (think Watanabe’s How Do I Put It On?). Each chapter is introduced by a page of full color containing a brief introductory sentence or two (“Kenny doesn’t like the vacuum cleaner. It sleeps in the closet”; “Kenny’s bedtime is in five minutes. But Kenny is not tired”), nicely delineating the four sections. The situations are all ones to which young readers will relate — and they will cheer as Kenny emerges victorious each time (“Is Kenny dressed? Yes!”). The illustrations — in Pinkney’s signature swirly art, full of movement and energy — capture Kenny’s personality and emotions. They also portray, understatedly but definitely, the warmth of this family’s relationships: he and Daddy laugh together in a post-vacuum-cleaner tickling session; his sister high-fives him after his soccer lesson; his mother reads him a book at bedtime. Pinkney keeps a tight focus on Kenny, his family, and a few signature objects (particularly his yellow toy school bus and beloved stuffed animal Kitty), helping viewers to likewise focus as they spend the day with this delightful Black boy. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

From the January/February 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 The Old Truck
by Jarrett Pumphrey and Jerome Pumphrey; illus. by the authors
Preschool, Primary    Norton    40 pp.
1/20    978-1-324-00519-3    $17.95
e-book ed.  978-1-324-00520-9    $12.15

The author-illustrator brothers tell the story of a family farm and the truck that assists with chores. As the hard-working truck ages, so does the farming couple’s young daughter. The two are a pair, making this story, despite the title, as much hers as it is the vehicle’s. The Pumphreys allow their retro, earth-toned illustrations room to breathe in an uncluttered, gently paced presentation. Rendered via a mixture of low-tech (hand carved stamps…) and high (…which are then digitally manipulated), the illustrations are infused with cheer (the farmers are always smiling) and playfulness. As a young child, the girl imagines spectacular adventures with the sturdy truck. In a series of three spreads, as she sleeps snug in her bed, we are privy to her dreams — of her and the shape-shifting truck on the ocean, in the air, and in space. As an adult, she becomes the “new farmer” who pulls the tired, neglected truck out of the weeds to rehabilitate it. It’s refreshing to see an African American farming family depicted in a picture book, as well as determined, resilient women who farm. The final spread shows a child (who appears to be the woman’s daughter) on the bed of the newly remodeled truck, representing the next generation of industrious farmers. JULIE DANIELSON

From the March/April 2020 Horn Book Magazine.

 You Matter
by Christian Robinson; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Atheneum    40 pp.    g
6/20    978-1-5344-2169-1    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-2170-7    $10.99

No saccharine self-esteem book, this is a powerful affirmation of each reader’s worth. Robinson’s text is loaded with child appeal (“When everyone thinks you’re a pest. / When everyone is too busy to help. / You matter”); kid-level humor (“Even if you are really gassy. / You matter”); and profound observations (“Sometimes you feel lost and alone. / But you matter”). The repetition of the titular phrase is extremely effective; by book’s end, you can’t help but believe it. Striking acrylic and collage illustrations take us on a compressed journey through time and space. We meet creatures from Earth’s distant past (fish walking out of a primordial sea; dinosaurs) and then head out into space, where a meteor hurtles toward Earth (“If you have to start all over again…”). Still in space, we move to the present, with an astronaut, a Black woman, holding a photo of a child and gazing longingly toward Earth, where (as we see after the page-turn) her child is missing her (“Sometimes someone you love says goodbye”). The book comes to rest in a vibrant city, one full of color and movement and of people “old and young,” and wraps up with a scene of promise and possibility, as a young boy gazes out his window at the busy world outside and, one feels, the future. MARTHA V. PARRAVANO

From the September/October 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

 Octopus Stew
by Eric Velasquez; illus. by the author
Primary    Holiday    40 pp.
9/19    978-0-8234-3754-2    $17.99

With love and humanity — and humor — Velasquez (Looking for BongoGrandma’s Gift) once again affirms young Black Latinx boys’ identities and family experiences. Inspired by her cape-wearing grandson’s painting of an octopus superhero, Ramsey’s grandmother decides to make pulpo guisado, an octopus stew. Together they go to the market to find the perfect octopus for their dish. Back home, Grandma starts prepping for the stew — and suddenly, strange things start happening in her kitchen. With the exaggerated detail of a tall tale and the pacing and sound effects (“Bloop, Bloop, Bloop, Brrrr”) of oral storytelling, Velasquez depicts an intergenerational tale filled with food, family, laughter, and love (fans of Looking for Bongo will find some familiar characters). The oil-paint illustrations effectively convey the story’s larger-than-life supernatural elements as well as the protagonists’ affectionate relationship; the many shades and features of Afro-Latinx families are displayed, including in a central foldout spread that contains a humorous and effective narrative surprise. An author’s note, a glossary of the “non-standard Spanish” used throughout the story (and that Velasquez’s own family used at home), and an octopus stew recipe are appended. SUJEI LUGO

From the January/February 2020 Horn Book Magazine.

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