Picture book love and community

These new picture books model self-love, strength in community, and pride in identity for very young children of color.

Hands Up! by Breanna J. McDaniel, illustrated by Shane W. Evans, is an affirmation of self-love for children of color. An exuberant brown-skinned girl recounts many situations in which she puts her "hands up": playing peek-a-boo, striking a pose in ballet, etc. Evans's textured illustrations effectively evoke a bright mood. An author's note articulates McDaniel's choice to reclaim the titular phrase from its negative associations with police encounters. A book that highlights the joys of black and brown childhood while positioning young children as agents of change. (Dial, 3–7 years)

The "scrumptious scent" of grandmotherly Omu's thick red stew wafts out her apartment window; a little boy inquires after the delicious smell, then a peckish police officer, etc., until Omu's generosity sharing her stew means that she has none left for dinner. But everyone returns, this time to share with Omu. Mixed-media layers give depth to the collage illustrations in Oge Mora's 2019 Caldecott Honor Book Thank You, Omu!; her perfectly timed story contains repetition that will encourage group participation. (Little, Brown, 5–8 years)

When MacKenzie, star of My Hair Is a Garden by Cozbi A. Cabrera, is teased for her "always a mess" hair, she turns to neighbor Miss Tillie for help. The story strikes an effective balance between Miss Tillie encouraging self-confidence and explaining step-by-step self-improvement to MacKenzie. While many skin tones are represented in the soft acrylic illustrations, MacKenzie and Miss Tillie share a deep ebony color, contrasted with bright blues, greens, and reds in the patterns and backgrounds. (Whitman, 5–8 years)

In Jacqueline Woodson's The Day You Begin, Venezuelan immigrant Rigoberto looks crestfallen when the class laughs at his name; others feel left out when classmates make fun of their lunch foods. And the (unnamed) African American protagonist has trouble finding her voice when her classmates recount their summer vacations until she realizes that books have afforded her boundless travel. Woodson's story about bravery in the face of feeling like an outcast values literacy, reading, and imagination. Rafael López's accompanying illustrations feature vivid, brilliant colors. (Penguin/Paulsen, 5–8 years)

From the February 2019 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


Stay Connected. Join our devoted community of librarians, educators, and parents in the world of children’s and young adult literature.