Blips on a Screen: How Ralph Baer Invented TV Video Gaming and Launched a Worldwide Obsession (Knopf Books for Young Readers) Written by Kate Hannigan Illustrated by Zachariah Ohora
For ages: 4-8 As much as we play video games in contemporary culture, we don’t know the names of many people who laid the foundations for this form of entertainment. Blips on a Screen attempts to remedy this by telling the story of Ralph Baer. Born Rolf Baer in Germany, his family was Jewish and fled the Nazis in 1938, just before the borders were closed, and the horrors of the Holocaust ratcheted up. After a name change to try and assimilate, Ralph grew up with a love of inventing things. Radios were his passion, which led to using those skills as a soldier for the States in World War II. After coming home, Ralph wondered if there was a way to create electronic games, and the growing popularity of television had him thinking. Ralph would eventually make and release the Odyssey, the first home video game console, in 1972.
This Was Our Pact (First Second) Written & Illustrated by Ryan Andrews
I fell in love with the Cartoon Network mini-series Over the Garden Wall from my first viewing. It’s become seasonal viewing for us as autumn rolls in. What I love most is how the world surprises you at every turn, delivering magical-realist surprises, both exciting and scary. It exists in the realm of dream logic, where the oddest things just make sense. Even as an adult, it evokes that sense of wonder we had as children reading through a masterfully written middle-grade novel. That magic is captured in the pages of This Was Our Pact, a story about two friends on a bike ride that takes them into strange & wondrous lands just around the corner from their own neighborhood.
Tokyo Digs A Garden (Groundwood Books) Written by Jon-Erik Lappano Illustrated by Kellen Hatanaka
For ages: 3-7 Tokyo lives in an urban center choked by pollution and concrete. There used to be forests, streams, and grass fields here, but the people ate it all up with their construction. One day a mysterious old woman bikes by and gives Tokyo some seeds telling him that if he plants them, they will grow into whatever he wishes. Tokyo does so in his backyard, hoping for a garden. The entire city is covered in plants, vines, trees, and flowers the following day. Rivers have busted through and flow where streets once were. A modern fairy tale in a world where the specter of climate change and the loss of the wild grows ever closer.
Oge Mora may remind you of the work of Ezra Jack Keats with her collage illustration style, which is a beautiful comparison. Keats was revolutionary in pushing for the inclusion of Black children in picture books even though he was a white man. His work has influenced multiple generations of picture book author-illustrators, Mora included. Mora grew up in Columbus, Ohio but now resides in Providence, Rhode Island, after attending the Rhode Island School of Design. RISD has been an incubator for some of the best people working in children’s literature today. They must certainly be doing something right at that school. As you look over these titles, you’ll quickly see that Mora’s interests lie in making books about people coming together and growing.
I am an uncle who regularly records & sends my nieces and nephew read-aloud videos. While I like sharing books that I love with them, I am curious about what books they enjoy and why. Kid Connection is a place where you aren’t hearing as much from me as you are my nephew and eldest niece (the youngest is only three, so one day, she will be able to join in). So I recently asked them to pick out two books they enjoyed and explain some details about what they liked.
Little Red Riding Hood and the Dragon (Harry N. Abrams) Written by Ying Chang Compestine Illustrated by Joy Ang
For ages: 4-8 Discovering a great retelling of an old fairy tale classic is always enjoyable. This version is told to us by a big but not bad wolf who wants to set the story straight. Red Riding Hood came from China. She was bringing her Nǎinai herbal soup & a rice cake. Unfortunately, Nǎinai gets eaten up by a big bad dragon who takes her place in the sick bed, waiting to devour Little Red. The confrontation between the two is a real battle where Red has to find objects around the house to fight back the fearsome beast.
Everybody Feels Fear (DK Children) Written & Illustrated by Ashwin Chacko
For ages: 4-8 For a very long time, parents in America were taught to push their children despite signs that the child might have anxiety. The result was a society full of anxious people who were terrible at communicating their feelings. The solution to handling fear is different for every person. This book does an excellent job of talking to young children about how it is normal to feel fear and provides some strategies on what to do when you feel it. One of my favorite things about this text is that it emphasizes nothing wrong with feeling scared & that bravery has nothing to do with making fear disappear. Courage happens in spite of fear, and it can take time to build up enough of it.
Roll For Initiative (Running Press Kids) Written by Jaime Formato
Tabletop roleplaying games have opened up children & adults to their creativity for decades, having successfully weathered the inane “satanic panic” of the 1980s. In Roll For Initiative, we meet Riley Henderson, a middle schooler suddenly thrust into a new situation. Her older brother, Devin, has started college across the country in California while her mom is picking up more and more shifts at her retail job. This leaves Riley by herself most afternoons, and into the evening, yearning for the Dungeons & Dragons group her brother was the Dungeon Master for. A chance meeting on the bus has Riley befriending Lucy, who has been curious about D&D but has no one to teach her the game. Despite initial misgivings, Riley decides to be a DM for the first time, and she and Lucy have a lot of fun. Eventually, two more girls join the group, and they spend every Saturday playing out adventures in a magical world.
Leah Henderson has always loved to travel. Her family made many trips when she was a child, which continued into adulthood. Home was Andover, Massachusetts, where she also cultivated a love of reading. When Leah couldn’t physically go somewhere, books could take her there. As she grew, the young woman noticed how little some books she read resembled the world she knew and herself. There were so many people that got overlooked in the media that Leah decided to write about them. Today she lives in Washington, D.C., and teaches in the graduate writing program at Spalding University. Leah also has spent many years mentoring & volunteering in Mali, where her family has their roots. In her books, the author consistently highlights what it is to be a Black person worldwide over many periods.
Daddy Speaks Love (Nancy Paulsen Books) Written by Leah Henderson Illustrated by E.B. Lewis
For ages: 4-8 The ripples caused in the wake of the murder of George Floyd are still being felt today. There was a palpable and justified anger at the time has, which has cooled slightly but still simmers. The problem of the murder of Black people at the hands of police hasn’t stopped, and the fight certainly needs to continue. Leah Henderson was inspired by the words of Gianna, George’s daughter, who was only six at the time of his murder. We have an unnamed Black child talking about their father and their joy in spending time with him. The lyrical text focuses on the refrain of “Daddy speaks love.” The book holds a sense of momentum that builds to a beautiful spread of a child beneath a mural of the late Floyd with the words declaring “Black Lives Matter” and that we will change this world for the better. Relevant, beautiful words should not be hidden from children by white folks who fear the truth.
A Day for Rememberin’ (Harry N. Abrams) Written by Leah Henderson Illustrated by Floyd Cooper
For ages: 6-9 Telling the origins of today’s Memorial Day, we go back to when Black Americans celebrated Decoration Day. A community of formerly enslaved people in 1865 faces a future with opportunities they never dreamed would be possible. Eli wants to go to work with his dad, but he’s still a child, and they tell him school is what he needs to do. One day, he gets to skip school, go with his father, and help as the adults prepare a special event to memorialize Black soldiers killed in the American Civil War. There’s a lot of work to do, and then a parade with songs, sermons, and flowers laid on simple graves. The legendary late Floyd Cooper illustrated this book, a perfect pairing between her and Henderson—another reminder of how fantastic his painted illustrations were.
One Shadow on the Wall (Atheneum Books for Young Readers) Written by Leah Henderson
For ages: 8-12 This middle-grade novel tells the story of Mor, an 11-year-old Senegalese child. The child’s father had died, leaving Mor and his two younger sisters as orphans. Mor’s father comes to him in a dream encouraging him to do everything he can to keep the family together. There are dangers in this place, including a gang of men intent on doing harm & taking what they want. Eventually, Mor learns his best friend has joined this gang and wonders if he should too. They don’t seem to ever go without. Henderson presents Senegal with so much life and detail that it makes you feel like you are there. So often, African countries are ignored in Western children’s literature that it’s a refreshing surprise to read about one. This is slower than some middle-grade readers might be used to. Still, its message of determination and loving one’s family is a universal sentiment everyone can connect with.
Turn on the news these days, and you’re likely to see a news report about the increase in homelessness. Unfortunately, the language used in this reporting is often cruel and dehumanizing towards the people who don’t have shelter. I find the way they are spoken about almost places them in a category separate from humans. It’s a troubling, fascistic way of talking about the poor. Empathy is needed, as well as material help in the form of housing, food, education, health care, and so on. We must teach our children that homeless people are people first. Their living conditions result from broken systems that harm us all to varying degrees. We’re also all one bad day away from ending up in that same position; creating a world where no one has to go homeless benefits us all. These books can help begin conversations with your children about the plight of people who have been forced to live on the streets or perpetually live on the edge of losing everything.