Avoiding bedtime in the most imaginative of ways, reaping the benefits of working both smart and hard, and learning how to set clear boundaries are the varied themes that make up this edition of Statesman Selects Kids.
The collaboration between the American-Statesman and BookPeople seeks to make your young readers’ picture-book shelves as diverse and inclusive as the world around them. It’s a goal shared by BookPeople’s Modern First Library, which encompasses a broad range of titles and a blog series.
Finish up your last bit of holiday shopping with these new books, peruse even more selections under the Modern First Library umbrella at bookpeople.com/bookpeople-modern-first-library-sets and give the gift of a wider lens this holiday season.
'Don’t Touch My Hair!'
Aria loves her hair. It’s “soft and bouncy, and grows up toward the sun like a flower.”
What she doesn’t like is when folks touch it without permission.
In writer-illustrator Sharee Miller’s “Don’t Touch My Hair!” (Little, Brown, $17.99), young Aria goes to great lengths to avoid confrontations with well-meaning strangers who want to feel her natural locks.
It’s not just people she needs to consider — in her quest to escape the hair-touchers she has to dodge mermaids and an octopus underwater, and even a bedazzled dragon who spies Aria in the tallest of castle towers and declares, “Girl, your hair is FIERCE!”
Avoiding the matter won’t help, so Aria has to learn how to speak up for herself in Miller’s humorous yet necessary take on how to set personal boundaries. What makes “Hair” so universal is that it’s a perfectly age-appropriate introduction to consent, whether the reader is grappling with Aria’s specific challenge (one also explored by comedian Phoebe Robinson in her New York Times-bestselling “You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain” and a song by Solange Knowles) or other body-specific limits.
Miller, whose 2017 picture book “Princess Hair” celebrated the diversity of black hair, has said she hopes her newest title will help parents and educators start important conversations. To that end she’s also created free tools, including a “Personal Boundaries” poster featuring Aria. Visit shareemiller.com to download the poster and more resources. (Ages 4-8)
'Time for Bed, Miyuki'
Getting a wayward child to bed is a perennial challenge for caregivers the world over. Add a dose of sweet beauty to this familiar hurdle with “Time for Bed, Miyuki” (Princeton Architectural Press, $17.95), a romp through Miyuki’s wondrous attempts to resist the inevitable.
As Grandfather gently coaxes her to leave the day behind, Miyuki implores him that there’s so much more to do before bedtime.
Her imagination runs far past the usual requests for glasses of water or one more story, as author Roxane Marie Galliez shows us. Miyuki must ensure that her root veggies are well-watered, “dance the last dance of the day” and conscript her Grandfather into creating a canopy from twigs, leaves and a poppy to honor the upcoming arrival of the Dragonfly Queen and her court.
Illustrator Seng Soun Ratanavanh depicts Miyuki’s bedtime rituals beautifully, with flights of outsize fancy like the toad that dwarfs a wooden bucket and the red-slipper bed she’s eventually tucked into by her preternaturally patient Grandfather. The bond between grandparent and grandchild is palpable here, as are the Japanese cultural icons rendered as lovingly as the natural world, from the koinobori, or carp-shaped windsocks, that Miyuki “rides” to the zori sandal that seems to drop from her foot into a bird’s nest. (Ages 4 to 8, but the grownups reading this bedtime story will love the sophisticated art as much as the young ones)
'No Small Potatoes'
Young fans of french fries can probably only imagine how many salty sticks would be created by 12 million potatoes. Yet that’s exactly how many spuds were grown in just one year by the man born into slavery who would transform into the Potato King of the World.
Tonya Bolden tells his story in her entertaining picture-book biography, “No Small Potatoes: Junius G. Groves and His Kingdom in Kansas” (Knopf/Random House, $17.99), illustrated by Austin’s Don Tate. Groves was born on a Kentucky plantation, a few years before the U.S. outlawed slavery. At 20, he joined a growing group of “Exodusters,” Southerners immigrating to the Plains, where they could find work.
And work Groves did. Starting on a potato farm for 40 cents a day, he worked hard enough to earn raises and become foreman. He rented land and planted potatoes on what started as a 9-acre plot and grew to 66 acres … and then some.
Bolden tells the story of how hard work, perseverance and smart investing led Groves to success, but this biography is more than just one man’s story. It also packs in plenty of information about the Exodusters, spotlights the allure of alliterative prose and weaves in number sense to assess all those potatoes Groves grew. Her attention to detail — Groves and his wife eschew “needful things” to save every penny for land; his last home was a 22-room red-brick mansion with a library Groves called his “college” — brings the Potato King to vivid life.
Prolific author and illustrator Tate adds powerful visual storytelling to the mix, from the ire on Groves’ face when neighbors criticize his gamble on spud output to the arm-in-arm pride shared with his wife as they survey their thriving farm from their upstairs porch. (Ages 4-8)