From The Guide: Family Matters

Julie Roach’s “BGHB at 50” column, “Amber and Essie and Vera and Me" (January/February 2018 Magazine) looks back at Vera B. Williams’s classic Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart, about “two sisters who take care of each other while missing their incarcerated father and overworked mother.” Williams offers readers an “intimate look at sisterhood,” as the siblings support each other through good times and bad. The following picture books, recommended by The Horn Book Guide, likewise provide portraits of memorable family bonds that are specific to the books’ characters while also having universal resonance.

—Cynthia K. Ritter
Associate Editor, The Horn Book Guide

Bahk, Jane  Juna’s Jar
32 pp.     Lee     2015     ISBN 978-1-60060-853-7

K–3  Illustrated by Felicia Hoshino. When Juna’s friend Hector moves away abruptly, Juna’s kind brother tries to divert her sadness with gifts to put in her special kimchi jar. A fish, plant, and cricket inspire nightly dreamlike adventures to find Hector, but a daytime encounter with a new friend sets her on a happy path. Soft, whimsical watercolors contrast Juna’s ordinary days and exciting nights.

Bansch, Helga  Rosie the Raven
32 pp.     Annick     2016     ISBN 978-1-55451-834-0
Paperback ISBN 978-1-55451-833-3

K–3  Translated by Shelley Tanaka. A human child in a family of ravens fails to realize that she doesn’t resemble her siblings until some birds point it out. She fleetingly attempts to look the part but ultimately embraces her identity: “‘I am Rosie the Raven!’ I squawked, nice and loud.” This clever adoption and self-acceptance story features sophisticated art, occasionally in frame-like panels.

Birtha, Becky  Far Apart, Close in Heart: Being a Family When a Loved One Is Incarcerated
32 pp.     Whitman     2017     ISBN 978-0-8075-1275-3

K–3  Illustrated by Maja Kastelic. “Lots of children have a parent behind bars.” Birtha introduces a multicultural cast of children, each with at least one incarcerated parent (the crimes aren’t specified) and a unique challenge (e.g., social ostracism, foster care); the book also addresses their coping strategies. Kastelic complements the text’s gentle frankness with subdued but emotion-filled art. Adult-directed supplemental information concludes the book. Reading list.

Davies, Stephen  All Aboard for the Bobo Road
32 pp.     Andersen     2016     ISBN 978-1-5124-1598-8
ebook ISBN 978-1-5124-1599-5

K–3  Illustrated by Christopher Corr. Accompanying their father, a minibus driver, young Fatima and Galo look after passengers’ luggage on the roof: two mopeds, three bicycles, four cans of cooking oil, five sacks of rice, etc. The exuberant journey through Burkina Faso takes them past waterfalls, hippos, 1.8-billion-year-old rock domes, and the Grand Mosque in Bobo Dioulasso, all vividly depicted in Corr’s colorful, naively styled illustrations.

Ehrlich, Nikki  Twindergarten
32 pp.     HarperCollins/Harper     2017     ISBN 978-0-06-256423-8

K–3  Illustrated by Zoey Abbott. Twins Zoe and Dax are apprehensive about being in separate kindergarten classes, though each has moments of feeling more prepared for the rift than the other. It all works out nicely, with new friends and a reunion at recess. Abbott’s pleasant full-page and vignette colored-pencil drawings add liveliness to the reassuring text.

Farish, Terry  Luis Paints the World
32 pp.     Carolrhoda     2016     Library binding ISBN 978-1-4677-5796-6
ebook ISBN 978-1-4677-9556-2

K–3  Illustrated by Oliver Dominguez. When Dominican American boy Luis’s beloved brother, Nico, joins the army “to see the world,” Luis begins to paint in the neighborhood alley, creating a mural that mimics his brother’s travels. As he worries that his brother will not return, his art brings the neighborhood together in a touching finale. Dominguez’s sweeping full-spread illustrations skillfully evoke the tight-knit Latino community and the family’s bond. Glos.

Galbraith, Bree  Milo and Georgie
32 pp.     Owlkids     2017     ISBN 978-1-77147-170-1

K–3  Illustrated by Josée Bisaillon. When eight-year-old Milo’s family moves to the city, his little sister, Georgie, explores and makes new friends while Milo sulks inside. When Georgie goes missing and Milo is forced to look for her, he finds that his new neighborhood isn’t so bad after all. Mixed-media illustrations depict the city and its colorful, endearing characters in an eclectic style incorporating digital collage.

Korngold, Jamie  Sadie and Ori and the Blue Blanket
32 pp.     Kar-Ben     2015     Library binding ISBN 978-1-4677-1191-3

K–3  Illustrated by Julie Fortenberry. Sadie’s grandmother knits a baby blanket that becomes part of Sadie and Grandma’s — and eventually little brother Ori’s — adventures and Jewish holiday traditions. When Grandma begins to “remember less and less,” Sadie and Ori use the “together blanket” to take care of her. In the sixth book about this observant Jewish family, the loving intergenerational relationship comes across warmly in both text and illustrations.

Lam, Maple  My Little Sister and Me
40 pp.     HarperCollins/Harper     2016     ISBN 978-0-06-239697-6

K–3  “For the very first time, Mom asks me to take my little sister home from the bus stop — all by myself!” Big bro lovingly guides sis home, along the way discussing her day, rationalizing when she has to go potty, and calming her during a thunderstorm. Expressively illustrated in colored pencil and watercolor, the child-focused story sweetly captures the protective older brother’s satisfying accomplishment.

Ling, Nancy Tupper  Double Happiness
48 pp.     Chronicle     2015     ISBN 978-1-4521-2918-1

K–3  Illustrated by Alina Chau. A sweet picture book in verse (with poem titles in Mandarin Chinese and English) explores the feelings of Chinese American siblings who move from San Francisco to a colder, rural home. Nai Nai (grandmother) gives them each a present for “double happiness”: special boxes to be filled with memories connecting their old house to their new. Chau’s vibrant watercolors combine Chinese themes and American scenes.

O’Leary, Sara  A Family Is a Family Is a Family
32 pp.     Groundwood     2016     ISBN 978-1-55498-794-8

K–3  Illustrated by Qin Leng. This sweet celebration of all kinds of households opens with a teacher asking students to describe their families. From there, each spread is devoted to a different child’s unique family; we see lots of siblings, only children, same-sex parents, divorced parents, interracial parents, a foster family, and more. Leng’s digitally painted ink drawings are lively and appealing, casually reflecting the cast’s diversity.

Schwartz, Amy  Polka Dots for Poppy
32 pp.     Holiday     2016     ISBN 978-0-8234-3431-2

K–3  When Mama takes her four girls back-to-school shopping, each finds her heart’s desire — except the youngest, Poppy, who only wants “Polka Dots!” That night, her sympathetic sisters use colored markers to cover Poppy’s white dress and sandals with colorful dots, to her delight. Bright gouache and pen-and-ink art captures the girls’ creativity and resourcefulness in this child-minded story of sisterly devotion.

Sheth, Kashmira  Sona and the Wedding Game
32 pp.     Peachtree     2015     ISBN 978-1-56145-735-9

K–3  Illustrated by Yoshiko Jaeggi. During her sister’s wedding, a child in an East Indian American family participates in many cultural practices that are new to her. One such tradition involves a little mischief and humor: hiding the groom’s shoes. Soft watercolor paintings, some of which are framed in a recurring golden pattern, portray a loving, happy family. An author’s note provides cultural background.

From the January/February 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Reviews are from recent issues of The Horn Book Guide. For more information about subscribing to The Horn Book Guide Online, please visit
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