culture, food, spotlight

Spotlight: Paletero Man/Meet the Latkes

Paletero Man (HarperCollins)
Written by Lucky Diaz & Dr. Carmen Tafolla
Illustrated by Micah Player

For ages: 3-7
Very few things are as satisfying as an ice-cold treat during these scorching summer months. A Latinx boy has the same idea, but he can’t find the Paletero Man. So he races down the streets, hearing the sounds of the Paletero Man’s bell. Along the way, he runs into other street vendors and shopkeepers encouraging him. Eventually, everyone in the neighborhood comes together, and the boy is so inspired he makes sure everyone gets to enjoy paletas. As temperatures rise, that sounds absolutely divine to experience.

Continue reading “Spotlight: Paletero Man/Meet the Latkes”
humor, spotlight

Spotlight – I Don’t Want to Read This Book/Gladys the Magic Kitchen

I Don’t Want to Read This Book (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)
Written by Max Greenfield
Illustrated by Mike Lowrey

For ages: 4-8
For years, actors have tried their hand at picture book writing. I always meet these books with some skepticism, often wondering if the celebrity isn’t trying their hand at it because they perceive children’s book authoring as easier than writing for grown-ups. But, those of us who have spent years pouring over texts for kids know it takes a skilled person, almost a poet, who can parse big ideas with simple words. Max Greenfield (The New Girl) has presented his attempt at this seminal venture, and it’s not too bad.

Continue reading “Spotlight – I Don’t Want to Read This Book/Gladys the Magic Kitchen”
science, social-emotional, spotlight

Spotlight – Gardens Are For Growing/Your Fantastic Elastic Brain

Gardens Are For Growing (Familus)
Written by Chelsea Tornetto
Illustrated by Hsulynn Pang

For ages: 5-8
This will be a tearjerker for those adults reading it to their little ones. The pictures tell us about a father teaching his daughter about gardening in their backyard. Through the images, each step shows how the garden starts small and blooms into a lush, sprawling growth. However, the little girl is also growing, and we can count the measure of time by watching her and the plants. The father as well, a little gray in his red hair until it’s all white. That’s when the daughter visits home with her spouse and their child, the man’s granddaughter. 

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biography, culture, disabilities, family, spotlight

Spotlight: The Electric Slide and Kai/All the Way to the Top

The Electric Slide and Kai (Lee & Low Books)
Written by Kelly J. Baptist
Illustrated by Darnell Johnson

For ages: 5-8
Dancing is a fun part of any wedding, and you want to join the rest of the family and friends on the dance floor to celebrate. Kai hears Aunt Nina is getting married and wants to sharpen up his moves. Everyone in the family has a dancing nickname except for Kai, and he hopes this year it will change. He gets help from his family members, and they happily aid him. However, when the wedding day comes, Kai gets scared during the reception and slips away. Uncle Troy, Nina’s new husband, tells Kai he’s nervous about getting a dance nickname, too, and they hype each other up.

Continue reading “Spotlight: The Electric Slide and Kai/All the Way to the Top”
animals, black history, history, spotlight

Spotlight: Saving the Day/There’s a Lion in the Forest

Saving the Day: Garrett Morgan’s Life-Changing Invention of the Traffic Signal (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Written by Karyn Parsons
Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

For ages: 4-8
Our world is full of inventions we use every day but rarely think much about. The traffic light is a crucial technology that has helped save countless lives. It was invented by Black American Garrett Morgan, whose story is told in verse in this brand-new children’s book. Morgan was born to a farming family in 1870s Kentucky, where he seems to be underfoot while the adults and big kids do essential work. The young man’s strength comes in the form of mechanical genius, breaking down and rebuilding all sorts of devices to understand how they work. For example, after studying with a tutor, Morgan invents the zigzag stitch after breaking apart a sewing machine. 

Continue reading “Spotlight: Saving the Day/There’s a Lion in the Forest”
homelessness, humor, spotlight

Spotlight: The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors/Home

The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors (Balzer + Bay)
Written by Drew Daywalt
Illustrated by Adam Rex

For ages: 4-8
Some children’s games are just that, but some are more mythic. That’s the wildly hilarious tone of one of the best picture books I’ve read in the last ten years. Author Drew Daywalt (you might know him from The Day the Crayons Quit) pens a story that takes the mundane and reimagines it as akin to Conan the Barbarian or Lord of the Rings. This is one of the books that can unlock creativity and imagination through absolutely pure silliness for many children. 

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culture, holiday, lgbtq+, spotlight

Spotlight: Holi Hai!/Love, Violet

Holi Hai! (AW Teen)
Written by Chitra Soundar
Illustrated by Darshika Varma

For ages: 4-8
Holi is a Hindu festival also known as “The Festival of Colors” centered on the love given to humanity by the deity Radha Krishna. Its purpose is to celebrate the end of cold dark winters and the start of a warm jubilant spring. Over one night and one day, people feast and dance. Hindus are encouraged to forgive & forget past transgressions and heal broken relationships. The morning after is when Rangwali Holi happens. This is a big free for all, where participants smear each other with colored powders and play with water guns and balloons. People romp through the neighborhood singing and simply celebrating that they are all in each other’s life. The color fights mock the arguments that create dissonance throughout the year.

Continue reading “Spotlight: Holi Hai!/Love, Violet”
social-emotional, spotlight

Spotlight – The Year We Learned to Fly/I Love You Because I Love You

The Year We Learned to Fly (Nancy Paulsen Books)
Written by Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrated by Rafael Lopez

For ages: 4-8
With their last collaboration, The Day You Begin, Woodson and Lopez won readers’ hearts and are back at it again with another uplifting book full of love. This story features a girl with a beautiful Afro and her little brother who live in the big city. Summer storms have kept them locked up inside, but their grandmother suggests using their imaginations to escape their current world. Their imaginations are connected to the dreams of their ancestors, people who were enslaved and stolen from their homes but used their inner lives to escape. The girl and her brother reflect on their grandmother’s words and continue to use them as changes happen in their lives that put them in places where they feel like outsiders.

Continue reading “Spotlight – The Year We Learned to Fly/I Love You Because I Love You”
asian-american, culture, graphic novlels, spotlight

Spotlight: The Geraldine Pu Series

Geraldine Pu and Her Lunch Box, Too! (Simon Spotlight)
Written & Illustrated by Maggie P. Chang

For ages: 5-9
For non-white children living in America, there is a good chance they will encounter some form of racism in their early life. Recently, Asian-Americans have been targeted by hate crimes due to COVID-19 and some politicians & media’s insistence that it was a nefarious plot by the Chinese. These sorts of narratives cause so much harm, especially for young children who are always trying to balance a sense of individuality with acceptance by their peers. In the first book of Maggie P. Chang’s Geraldine Pu series, we see a little girl dealing with prejudice due to her culture and see how she overcomes bullying.

Geraldine brings a traditional lunch to school, Biandang, a sort of Taiwanese bento box. She opens it up at lunchtime, excited to eat when classmate Nico exclaims that it smells terrible. The other children at the table join in with Nico, and after the second day of ridicule over her food, Geraldine chooses not to eat the meal her grandmother packed for her. On the bus, her surname Pu becomes a point of ridicule. Things change the next day when one of her favorite dishes, Stinky Tofu, sits in her lunch box. Geraldine finds the strength within to stand up for herself. This sphere grows when Nico targets other students for their food, and Geraldine shows solidarity with them.

This is a wonderful introduction to graphic novels for young readers beginning to shift out of picture books and into longer-form reads. Chang includes a glossary upfront with some Mandarin vocabulary she’ll use in the book. She also presents a simple guide to reading graphic novels, showing the young readers the flow of panels and different types of dialogue bubbles (speech, thoughts, etc.). 

1. Have your student(s) draw a picture of their favorite food they make at home. Have them write a journal about why this food is their favorite and, who they would share it with & why.

2. Make a new dish together as a family. The book includes a recipe for Amah’s Steamed Pork Bao Buns, which you can use. However, if that’s not something you can make, try a recipe for something the family has never had before. This way, you can have conversations while making it and eating about this new shared experience.

3. Have your student(s) decorate their lunch box. Talk with them about what parts of their personality & culture they want represented on their lunch box and how they can do that.

Geraldine Pu and Her Cat Hat, Too! (Simon Spotlight)
Written & Illustrated by Maggie P. Chang

For ages: 5-9
Maggie P. Chang does an excellent job presenting moments that could be incredibly distressing but doing it with the most gentle touch. She doesn’t diminish the hurt her protagonist feels, but she also doesn’t allow the experience to define Geraldine as a person. In this second entry into the series, the focus is on Geraldine’s self-critique of her hair. Her Amah (grandmother) has a natural wave in her hair, while young Geraldine dislikes what she sees as plain black straight hair. Geraldine decides to handle it herself, which, if you have been around young children who decided to cut their own hair, you know how this turns out.

The revelation moment for Geraldine comes when she actually talks to her Amah. She learns that when Amah was a little girl, she hated her wavy hair and did everything to straighten it. Geraldine’s Cat Hat has become a way to hide a part of herself she feels ashamed about, but after talking with Amah, she embraces her hair as a beautiful thing. There’s some humor in the story, too, coming out of her little brother deciding to cut chunks of his own hair because he wants to change it up like everyone else. It’s through his folly that Geraldine reflects on her thoughts and, after talking to Amah, realizes the silliness in not loving yourself wholly.

Like the first book, we get a Mandarin glossary and a guide on reading a graphic novel. These books are also broken into chapters following a basic three-act storytelling structure. This could add to making story maps of these books because students can use those chapters as boundaries for what should be written in each section of their map. There are also a lot of great opportunities to make predictions while reading and tons of journaling/self-reflection potential.

1. Ask your student(s) what they love about themselves. Spend time talking about why they love this aspect and what they do to show people how much they love it.

2. Have students think about their favorite clothing accessory (hat, belt, jewelry, etc.) and imagine it was alive. What would its name be? What does it think about them? What is its favorite thing to do? Transition from a conversation into some creative writing.

3. The book includes directions on making a self-portrait using found materials. Adding onto that would be a writing piece explaining what they want people to learn about them by seeing this portrait and whether any materials hold a specific significance.

humor, illustration, jon klassen, spotlight

Spotlight: The Rock From the Sky/The Old Truck

The Rock From the Sky (Candlewick)
Written & Illustrated by Jon Klassen

For ages: 5-8
Author Jon Klassen’s books are some of the most remarkable children’s literature published at the moment. On the surface, they appear incredibly simplistic; his art style is very clear & direct. There aren’t many words in his books either. However, Klassen is taking big ideas and communicating them in ways that are easy to catch. Yet, his work also lends itself to some deep analysis; he seems deeply philosophical in his writing. The Rock From the Sky is a hilarious and thought-provoking book told in chapters that play with expectations and perspective.

We follow a turtle, an armadillo, and a snake through five chapters. In part one, the turtle has a spot he loves, but the armadillo feels uneasy. In the second part, the turtle falls but won’t accept help. In part three, the duo imagines what the future must be like, encountering something mean. In part four, the armadillo and snake enjoy watching the sunset. And things wrap up in the fifth part; the turtle gets annoyed with the titular rock and takes it out on his friends. This doesn’t sound like much on the surface, a series of disconnected episodes. However, Klassen spins comedic magic out of it all.

Klassen loves dry, deadpan comedy, and that’s found in the reactions of his characters. They seem to look at the reader in the same manner characters from the office gaze into the camera when something ridiculous happens. It’s a much more subtle way of breaking the fourth wall, a gimmick many children’s books have presented in the past; it’s just so sly here. Klassen is also a student of iconic theater, and he’s remixing Waiting for Godot with his very focused cast and setting. This is a story about silliness and absurdity, and that’s something children especially need in these dire, dreadful times.


  1. Have your child imagine another animal that could be added to the cast of this story. Depending on their age & ability, have them talk out/draw/write a new chapter and how this new animal changes things up.
  2. Klassen’s books are like little plays. Have your child/students/family act out the book’s chapters. Assign a part to each person and even gather props if you’d like. If you’re feeling up for it, share your performance as a video on YouTube.
  3. Have your child/students make a profile of their favorite character. Aspects to include would be likes, dislikes, fears, behavior, and thoughts. To push your writers further, ask them to explain how this character is like/unlike themselves.

The Old Truck (Norton Young Readers)
Written by Jared Pumphrey
Illustrated by Jerome Pumphrey

For ages: 3-5
Like The Rock From the Sky, The Old Truck is another beautifully simplistic book with so much underneath the surface. Brothers Jared and Jerome Pumphrey have used ink stamps to illustrate the book, hand-making over 250 stamps to tell their story. The result of the clear communication of the drawings is that even your earliest emerging readers can page through the text and fully understand what is happening. However, even older students can find rich themes focused around age, usefulness, and finding beauty in things people might toss away. 

The story describes how a pickup truck works hard for the farmer and his family. Much of the narrative is found in the illustrations, which illuminate the simple prose. We see a little girl, the farmer’s daughter, who becomes the central human character in the story. The family loads livestock and produce into the vehicle’s bed, and at certain points, repairs must be made on the old friend. The most interesting segment comes when the truck is parked beside the barn and forgotten for many years. The text describes this as the truck going to sleep and dreaming, and in these visions, he’s transformed into a boat, a blimp, and a moon lander. The grass grows around the red truck, and it seems to be rusted and lost. However, the daughter, now an adult, gets it running again, and the automobile finds a new lease on life.

Living in a world focused on destructive consumption can make us forget old valuable things. They often get tossed aside, lost in closets, attics, and the garage collecting dust. The Old Truck points out that some items may seem useless and get set aside for a time. However, with love and care on our part, we can discover these objects are extraordinary and can keep providing the help we need. If you have ever loved a beat-up old truck, car, or van, then you’re going to find something exceptional here. It’s also a fantastic reminder that even older people, who can get sidelined in our culture, are just as valuable as anyone else in our communities.


  1. Because The Old Truck was illustrated using ink stamps, it provides an excellent opportunity for your young writers/artists to experiment in the genre. Have your student take a familiar story or one of their own and illustrate it using sponge stamps
  2. Have your child explore the objects that are boxed up in your house. Ask them to choose some forgotten thing that still has a use, even if it needs to be fixed up a little. If you like, have them write a short journal about what makes this object special.
  3. The human characters in The Old Truck don’t ever say anything. By examining the illustrations, have students write about what they believe the farm girl’s motivations were to repair the old truck.