Danza! tells the story of Amalia Hernandez, the founder of El Ballet Folklorico de Mexico. She drew from local dance traditions throughout Mexico and combined them with ballet and modern techniques to create spectacular performances. The costumes are inspired by local tradition and when the company tours it takes more than three tons of costumes with it! Tonatiuh captures these beautifully by combining digital collage with his hand-drawn illustrations. I love this mixed-media approach which uses photographs to fill in fabric, hair, and other materials and adds a wonderful texture. Amalia's life and the spread of Mexian folkloric dance is an inspiring tale. I'm lucky enough to have seen the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico perform and recommend that you do too, but first read this book!
This colorful and practical guide leads kids through a variety of exercises in mindfulness. The bright illustrations and simple language make it an engaging way to teach mindfulness to even the youngest kids. The exercises are broken down into five sections: Be Calm, Focus, Imagine, Make Some Energy, and Relax. Each exercise gets a fully illustrated two page spread with large text in appealing fonts explaining what to do in kid-friendly language. I love the squirrels with their kindness exercise and the wolf that leads the get your grumpies out exercise, but it's afternoon as I write this, so I am most drawn to the energizers. This example from that section certainly looks appealing to me. Just look at that lion!
Breathe Like a Bear by Kira Willey, illustrated by Anni Betts
Reading comforts me. I find magazines in trash piles. Reading leads to writing. I find poetry in tomato fields, and stories in the faces of weary workers.
-from "Tomas Rivera" by Margarita Engle
This gorgeous collection of poetry highlights many lesser-known figures from artists to activists. The poems are short but inspiring and made me want to learn more about the people described. It would be a great class share, especially with the full-page mixed media illustrations that could each make beautiful posters on their own. Brief additional biographical information is included in the back, but you will probably want to do more research on your own after reading.
Bravo!: Poems about amazing Hispanics by Margarita Engle; illustrated by Rafael Lopez
What could be better than playing a munchkin in the Wizard of OZ? Well O.K. for me it would be the wicked witch. But Julia, did I mention that she is really short, is cast to play a munchkin. Not her idea. It’s her younger brother Randy who is the actor; she has just been coerced into tagging along to watch out for him. It turns out to be the summer of her life as she becomes best friends with one of the munchkins, Olive, an adult with dwarfism. Olive, the director, and an older neighbor who helps with costumes are all quirky wonderful characters who help Julia figure out who she is. “On opening night of the show: I lean into the window on the passenger side of the car. I smile at Mom and tell her something I’ve wanted to say all summer. “Thanks, Mom. Thanks for making me try out for this play.” I think I might just have made being a mother totally worthwhile for her. I will try to never forget her face…. Mom’s got tears in her eyes and she’s smiling. It’s an amazing look. I have to remember how powerful it can be to say thank you. Especially to the people you live with. They probably least expect it.” This book will have you laughing out loud one minute and swiping a tear the next.
Tessa's Picks, 3rd-7th grade, Character driven, Humor, Friendship, Contemporary fiction.
Red is over 200 years old, but she still doesn't understand people. She's been the community's wish tree for a long time and seen all sorts of wishes from the silly to the profound. She's never actually done anything to grant a wish though. Trees are the strong, silent types. Then one day a new girl wishes for a friend. When Red finds out that she's going to be cut down, she decides that for once she's going to do something to make a wish come true.
I love the perspective of a Red Oak as a narrator and all the critters who live in and around her. There's so many delightful details like the naming conventions of all the animals from skunks (named after something sweet) to opossums (named after their biggest fear.) As someone who is fond of jokes that aren't always appreciated by others, I identified with the tree's attempts at humor.
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate Erica's Picks 3rd - 5th Grade Tags: Animals, Character Driven, Friendship, People of Color
When Anna reads Secret Garden, she decides she wants to create a magical garden of her own. Her family just moved to a new house with a back yard that looks pretty rough and weedy, but she can already see how it would look with a little help. Luckily there's a girl on her street whose birthday is just one day apart from hers. She can help her get the garden ready. But when school starts and poison ivy attacks, Anna wonders if she's lost her friend and her garden.
I love Anna's imagination and the way she navigates her new friendship. A lot of kids will love the storyline about the lost baby bunny they rescue. It's great for kids learning to read chapter books on their own, but parents would enjoy it as a read aloud as well.
Year of the Garden by Andrea Cheng
Erica's Picks 1st - 3rd Grade Tags: character driven, animals, contemporary fiction, friendship, people of color
Detective Gordon is getting on in years but he's still the best detective around. When he discovers a young mouse who steals a single nut out of hunger, he decides that instead of arresting her, he should take her on as an apprentice and give her food and shelter. They work together to solve cases around town. It's a funny book with a lot of heart and it would make a great read aloud. My favorite part is how particular he is with his stamp. It reminds me of when I let kids stamp their library books.
Avani doesn't fit in with the flower scouts as they talk about boys and make -up tips. But an accidental alien abduction leads to her true scout calling: star scouts. This inter-galactic troupe of kids may not be the most skilled or organized, but they love being together and embrace their quirkiness. Where can I sign up?
Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence
Erica's Picks 3rd - 5th Tags: adventure, comics, humor, people of color, science fiction
Malu's parents are divorced, and she wonders how they were ever together. Her dad owns a record store that hosts punk rock concerts while her mother is always telling her to act like a proper 'senorita.' When Malu's mother drags her away from her home and her father to move halfway across the country to Chicago, it's Malu's worst nightmare. She hates her new school and the popular girls who make fun of her punk style. But when she sees a flyer for the school's talent show she knows one sure-fire way to make it all better: form her own band!
Malu's love of punk is infectious and her zines interspersed throughout the book made my fingers twitch for scissors and and glue sticks.
The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez
Erica's Picks 3rd - 6th Tags: character driven, contemporary fiction, family life, humor, people of color, school stories
Since Cadence Jolly’s mom left town five years ago, the whole town protects and fosters her shyness. Now she is almost eleven and wants to break out of her shell. She needs to find the self-confidence to let herself and her amazing singing voice shine. There are going to be auditions for the church choir and Cadence and her friends Zara and Faith mean to make the grade. When a secret recording of Cadence singing leaks and catches the attention of the whole church, her friend wants to take the credit. How can she put herself out in the world and still keep her friends? Will she have the confidence to step into the spotlight? The sense of love, faith and community is heartwarming and Cadence is an endearing protagonist. Don't miss President of the Whole Fifth Grade by the same author.
Tessa's Picks, 3rd-5th grade, Contemporary fiction, Character driven, Friendship, People of Color