Welcome to the Horn Book's Family Reading blog, a place devoted to offering children's book recommendations and advice about the whats and whens and whos and hows of sharing books in the home. Find us on Twitter @HornBook and on Facebook at Facebook.com/TheHornBook

"Dear Mrs. Trump" booklist

Mrs. Trump, you sent ten picture books, so I will recommend ten as well — but there are so many more! My wish is that these books will help you see:

  •  the beautiful resilience of children who stand up to racism and oppression and for social justice and reform;

  • children who are trying to connect with parents who are incarcerated simply because of their immigration status;

  • children who integrate aspects of their own cultures and countries of origin into their new country;

  • children whose parents risked everything to enter the U.S. so they can have a chance at a future free from violence and/or poverty;

  • children who challenge society’s social constraints and are accepted and loved as who they say they are.

(Horn Book reviews included, where available.)


Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic written by Ginnie Lo; illus. by Beth Lo (Lee & Low, 2012).
Author and illustrator (sisters) retell how their aunt, a Chinese immigrant to the Midwest, created a family tradition. On a family outing in the 1950s, Auntie Yang discovers a field of soybeans--and a way to overcome homesickness for China while sharing a very special food. The heartfelt story is accompanied by enamel on porcelain art carefully drawn with colored glazes. Glos.

The Boy & the Bindi written by Vivek Shraya; illus. by Rajni Perera (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2016). [Not reviewed by the Horn Book.]

Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl's Courage Changed Music written by Margarita Engle; illus. by Rafael López (Houghton, 2015).
A young girl "on an island of music" dreams of becoming a drummer, but only boys play drums. The story is based on Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a "Chinese-African-Cuban girl who broke Cuba's traditional taboo against female drummers." Poetic text takes its cues from Zaldarriaga's chosen instrument. Saturated acrylic-on-wood illustrations capture the island's musicality and the surreal dream-images that inspire young Millo.

King for a Day written by Rukhsana Khan; illus. by Christiane Krömer (Lee & Low, 2014).
Action-filled collages of traditional fabrics, textured paper, yarn, and more display intricate sky- and cityscapes of Lahore, Pakistan, during Basant, the spring kite festival. Malik, skillfully using his handmade small kite to conquer the bully next door in the kite battle, is a real hero; that he uses a wheelchair is incidental to the story. Useful contextual information is appended.

Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation written by Edwidge Danticat; illus. by Leslie Staub (Dial, 2015).
In this gentle story, Haitian American Saya's mother is incarcerated because she has no papers. Danticat's direct, resonant prose doesn't shy away from the realities--telling of the loneliness of missing your mother and the trauma of saying goodbye at the detention facility. Staub's naive-style oil paintings keep the focus on the child; the larger issue of the plight of refugees and immigrants makes the story universal.

My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood written by Tameka Fryer Brown; illus. by Shane Evans (Penguin Random House, 2013).
Jamie expresses his shifting emotions in a rainbow of colors. His cool purple "Grape-juice drinking...Bobbing to the beat kind of mood" shifts to a "Gloomy gray kind of place" when his brothers are mean, and so on. The stuttering free verse can be difficult to follow; Evans's hue-specific digital-collage illustrations provide most of this conceptually smart book's expression.

Red: A Crayon’s Story written and illus. by Michael Hall (Greenwillow, 2015).
Crayon Red is labeled red, but he colors blue, which creates frustration for the other crayons and thus Red himself. Red struggles until new friend Berry asks him to make a blue ocean. Once he lets go of his label, everything turns around, including the other crayons' minds. Smart design and sharp details keep the story effective and amusing.

Separate Is Never EqualSeparate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family's Fight for Desegregation written and illus. by Duncan Tonatiuh (Scholastic, 2014).
In 1947 the Mendez family fought for--and won--the desegregation of schools in California. Tonatiuh uses a child's viewpoint to succinctly capture the segregated reality of Mexican Americans. The straightforward narrative is well matched with illustrations in Tonatiuh's signature style, their two-dimensional perspective reminiscent of the Mixtec codex but collaged with paper, wood, etc. to provide textural variation. An author's note with photos is appended. Bib., glos., ind.

Somos Como Las Nubes / We Are like the Clouds written by Jorge Argueta; illus. by Alfonso Ruano; translated by Elisa Amado (Groundwood, 2016).
Argueta's bilingual collection gives voice to refugee children who emigrate from Central American countries to the United States in search of safety or better lives. The poems, written in the first person, present the candid perspective of the children's experiences; they include whimsical imagery but also scary threats. Delicate illustrations present both realistic portrayals and surreal depictions that complement the textual imagery.

Two White Rabbits written by Jairo Buitrago; illus. by Rafael Yockteng; translated by Elisa Amado (Groundwood, 2015).
A girl and her father travel by foot, by raft, and by train. As they travel, the girl counts the things she sees: "I count the people who live by the train tracks." Originally published in Spanish, this quiet picture book highlights the experience of a child refugee or immigrant; Yockteng's contemplative graphic illustrations clearly depict the pain, frustration, and boredom of the journey.
Liz Phipps Soeiro

Liz Phipps Soeiro is an elementary school librarian in the Cambridge, MA, Public Schools. She is an advocate for inclusive libraries and active in her community to create spaces that are welcoming to all students.

Comments are closed

Anne M

This moved me to tears, so glad to know librarians like you are out there in our schools! Please keep up the good work.

Posted : Sep 29, 2017 01:04


I am a liberal. Perhaps because I am also a southerner, I would have thanked the First Lady for the gift, shared my list of books with her in hopes of broadening her knowledge of children's books, and quietly forwarded the books my privileged school didn't need to a library that did need them. It's possible that both women's hearts were in the right place, but I see no positive outcome from making an issue out of this - just more division and anger.

Posted : Sep 29, 2017 12:53

Shirley Harvey

Liz You did a great job in that letter. Never be silent. Your recommendations were right on. You did it in a gracious way. Again, thank you.

Posted : Sep 28, 2017 11:30


Interesting that "Mike" has two different profiles. Spamalot? As for "politicizing", funny it's only "liberals" who do this, right?? Or perhaps they are responding to the very politicized, corporatized turn that the Dept. of Education has taken under Betsy DeVos - interesting that the Dept could only come up with these titles for Mrs. Trump. Next thing you know, librarians will be shamed as "ungrateful" and "uppity", just like black football players have been. They should take what they've been given and respect their betters, obviously.

Posted : Sep 28, 2017 07:08

Diane Burns Brads

I guess that all of the schools across the country that celebrate Dr. Suess' birthday with a week of fun Dr. Seuss activities are backward and provincial. The librarian who was so ungracious does not represent her profession well. I don't forget that Mrs.Trump is from a communist country. I am sure that she has very painful memories of oppression. I imagine that may have included adults who believed it was their job to cram their own ideology into the minds of children. I am so happy that the children in my family are not in this librarian ' s school district.

Posted : Sep 28, 2017 06:50

View More Comments



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing.