The Power of Literacy

September 8th is International Literacy Day, the perfect bridgehead from which to use these three picture books to proclaim the power of books and reading in the face of increasing attacks on libraries and literacy. For more related books, see Make way from the August 2023 issue of Notes from the Horn Book; or click the Books and reading subject tag in the Horn Book Guide/Reviews Database


Khalil, Aya  The Great Banned-Books Bake Sale 

32 pp. | Tilbury | August, 2023 | Trade ISBN 978-0-88448-967-2 $18.95 

Illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan. Kanzi (the Arabic-speaking Egyptian girl whose potholed transition to life in America was portrayed in The Arabic Quilt) feels marginalized when her school’s library is denuded of books that reflect the experiences and perspectives of underrepresented groups. Adult characters scaffold a discussion with the kids about the current book banning movement (some readers might find the school librarian’s explanation for the bans simplistic). Kanzi proposes a school-wide protest-slash-bake-sale that sees her using her voice for change, raises money to buy books to donate to Little Free Libraries, gains local attention, and occasions a book ban reversal. Digital illustrations incorporating Arabic text add to the instructiveness of a story put into context by an author’s note. 

McCullough, Joy  The Story of a Book  

40 pp. | Atheneum | August, 2023 | Trade ISBN 978-1-66590-385-1 $18.99 

Illustrated by Devon Holzwarth. Warm mixed-media illustrations depict the journey of a single book as it passes from person to person over time, connecting — imperceptibly or overtly, but always powerfully — readers diverse in age, race, and ability to each other. Although as a physical object, the book suffers wear and tear as it travels through the world, the book is itself a world whose mysterious, often unexpected magic endures long beyond the final page. Particularly satisfying is the illustrations’ acknowledgment of all the places where a book can be read, from a treehouse, to a darkened bedroom at night, to the shore of a lake, to a classroom, and more. The concise text notes the many ways reading can empower, support, and serve us. A heartfelt celebration of the practical, social, intellectual, and emotional uses of books.  

Schu, John  This Is a Story 

40 pp. | Candlewick | March, 2023 | Trade ISBN 978-1-5362-0452-0 $17.99 

Illustrated by Lauren Castillo. Realized through pithy prose, this ode to the power of stories follows two children and their dad during a day at the library, and highlights the vistas that open up through the “world of reading.” Schu pinpoints the capacity of reading to cultivate the (young) human person as a field of possibility. Underscoring the text’s message that stories can endlessly grow our minds, hearts, and connections with other people, Castillo’s ink, watercolor, and pastel illustrations provide ever-expanding views of the inside of a library filled with diverse children, presided over by a dedicated librarian (who resembles the author himself). 

Summer Edward

Horn Book Consulting Editor Summer Edward is a Trinidadian American author, children’s book editor, educator, K-12 literacy specialist, Caribbean children’s and YA literature advocate, and commentator on books for young readers. She holds an M.S.Ed. degree in Reading, Writing, Literacy from the University of Pennsylvania and founded Anansesem, an online magazine that for 10 years covered Caribbean children’s and YA literature. She has written for Kirkus ReviewsSchool Library JournalThe Horn BookWOW Stories: Connections from the ClassroomLiteracy Dailysx salon, KidLit TV, the Commonwealth Education Trust, Social Justice Books, and more. Learn more about her work at

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