New Release Spotlight: January 14, 2020 (Picture Books)

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You know what I love about this list? Out of ten featured titles, six of them prominently feature people of color! This week’s picture book list is not as razzle-dazzle as last week’s was, but there really are some excellent titles. Of the three lists this week, picture books get my vote for the best list for the second week in a row!

As always, titles with a * by them received two or more starred professional reviews. This week’s YA and middle grade Spotlights are linked at the bottom of this post. And don’t forget The Ginormous book list, which is now up to well over 300 titles!

Freedom Bird: A Tale of Hope and Courage by Jerdine Nolen (Author) and James E. Ransome (Illustrator)

Brother and sister Millicent and John are slaves on Simon Plenty’s plantation and have suffered one hurt and heartbreak after another. Their parents had told them old tales of how their ancestors had flown away to freedom just as free and easy as a bird. Millicent and John hold these stories in their hearts long after their parents are gone. “Maybe such a time will come for you,” their parents said. Then one day a mysterious bird appears in their lives. The bird transforms them and gives them the courage to set their plan into motion and escape to freedom.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book, historical fiction
  • Recommended for: Grades K-5
  • Themes: slavery, African-Americans, freedom, birds, American South

Just Like a Mama by Alice Faye Duncan (Author) and Charnelle Pinkney Barlow (Illustrator)

Carol Olivia Clementine lives with Mama Rose. Mama Rose is everything–tender and sweet. She is also as stern and demanding as any good parent should be. In the midst of their happy home, Carol misses her mother and father. She longs to be with them. But until that time comes around, she learns to surrender to the love that is present. Mama Rose becomes her “home.” And Carol Olivia Clementine concludes that she loves Miss Rose, “just like a mama.”

This book is, on the surface, all about the everyday home life a caregiver creates for a young child: she teaches Clementine how to ride a bike, clean her room, tell time. A deeper look reveals the patience, intention, and care little ones receives in the arms of a mother whose blood is not her blood, but whose bond is so deep–and so unconditional–that it creates the most perfect condition for a child to feel safe, successful, and deeply loved.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: parents, mothers, child’s separation from parents, home

*Black Is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy (Author) and Ekua Holmes (Illustrator)

A child reflects on the meaning of being Black in this moving and powerful anthem about a people, a culture, a history, and a legacy that lives on.

Red is a rainbow color.
Green sits next to blue.
Yellow, orange, violet, indigo,
They are rainbow colors, too, but

My color is black…
And there’s no BLACK in rainbows.

From the wheels of a bicycle to the robe on Thurgood Marshall’s back, Black surrounds our lives. It is a color to simply describe some of our favorite things, but it also evokes a deeper sentiment about the incredible people who helped change the world and a community that continues to grow and thrive.

I love that this has a timeline of the names used to label Black people since 1619. That alone makes this a book I would use with secondary students. I love that gorgeous cover, too!

Kirkus and Hornbook starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: poetry, rhyme, African-Americans, celebration, all about me, pride, activism, Black history

Tomorrow I’ll Be Kind by Jessica Hische

Companion to: Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave. This is another picture book that has a lot of purple prose in the publisher’s summary. I’ve complained about this a few times in my Spotlights, and I promise you, a blog post about my many beefs with publisher marketing techniques is coming soon.

The actual publisher’s summary is much longer and full of high-praise and lofty adjectives. I’ve cut out a lot, but this is the crux of it:

Immerse yourself in the hand-lettered words of wisdom, hope, and positivity alongside illustrations of love and caring. This book is a reminder to all readers, young and old, that the smallest kind gesture can make the biggest difference in the world–we just have to remember to be kind to one another.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreK-Grade 2
  • Themes: rhyme, caring, random acts of kindness

The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne by Lesa Cline-Ransome and John Parra

Ethel Payne always had an ear for stories. Seeking truth, justice, and equality, Ethel followed stories from her school newspaper in Chicago to Japan during World War II. It even led her to the White House briefing room, where she broke barriers as the only black female journalist. Ethel wasn’t afraid to ask the tough questions of presidents, elected officials, or anyone else in charge, earning her the title, “First Lady of the Black Press.”

Fearless and determined, Ethel Payne shined a light on the darkest moments in history, and her ear for stories sought answers to the questions that mattered most in the fight for Civil Rights.

Lesa Cline-Ransome has been busy this January! She had TWO books on last week’s list: a picture book called Overground Railroad and a middle grade novel titled Leaving Lymon.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: journalism, Black History, prejudice, racism, sexism

Just Like Me by Vanessa Newton

This collection of 28 illustrated poems is an ode to the girl with scrapes on her knees and flowers in her hair, and every girl in between. It includes poetic mini-stories about girls of all kinds: girls who feel happy, sad, scared, powerful; girls who love their bodies and girls who don’t; country girls, city girls; girls who love their mother and girls who wish they had a father.

This received no starred reviews, but I all four reviews on Titlewave are positive and praise this book’s diversity, bright illustrations, and celebration of girls. There are only a handful of Goodreads reviews as of today, but all are positive. I would absolutely buy this for my elementary library!

  • Genre(s): picture book, poetry
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 5
  • Themes: all about me, girl power, celebrating ourselves, self-esteem, diversity, friendship

Brown Baby Lullaby by Tameka Fryer Brown (Author) and AG Ford (Illustrator)

From sunset to bedtime, two brown-skinned parents lovingly care for their beautiful brown baby: first, they play outside, then it is time for dinner and a bath, and finally a warm snuggle before bed. Includes Spanish words sprinkled throughout.

Kirkus starred. This would make a great baby shower gift, especially if all the shower attendees wrote a short note to the mom and baby on the inside cover.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: Grades 1-5 (reviewer range seems a bit high to me–I would recommend PreS personally)
  • Themes: bedtime, parents, babies, music

Fred’s Big Feelings: The Life and Legacy of Mister Rogers by Laura Renauld (Author) and Brigette Barrager (Illustrator)

Fred Rogers was a quiet boy with big feelings. Sometimes, he felt scared or lonely; at other times, he was playful and joyous. But when Fred’s feelings felt too big, his Grandfather McFeely knew exactly what to say to make him feel better: I like you just the way you are.

Fred grew up and created Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the television program that would go on to warm the hearts and homes of millions of Americans. But one day, the government threatened to cut funding for public television, including Fred’s show. So, Fred stepped off the set and into a hearing on Capitol Hill to make his feelings known.

Kirkus starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 4
  • Themes: Fred Rogers, Mr. Rogers, kindness, activism, children’s television, humility, compassion

Almost Time by Gary D. Schmidt (Author), Elizabeth Stickney (Author), and Mr. G. Brian Karas (Illustrator)

Eager for maple syrup, Ethan can’t wait till sugaring time rolls around. And he can’t wait till his loose tooth falls out. But his father keeps telling him it’s not time yet, and no matter how hard he tries, he can’t make time pass more quickly. The closeness of father and son is evident throughout as they wait and then celebrate the end of waiting. The brief, lyrical text is illuminated by G. Brian Karas’s beautifully composed, evocative illustrations.

Publishers Weekly starred.

  • Genre(s): picture book
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 2
  • Themes: loose tooth, maple syrup, sugaring, seasons, food, single parents, fathers and sons, anticipation

The Honey Dog Who Saved Abe Lincoln by Shari Swanson (Author) and Chuck Groenink (Illustrator)

Long before Abraham Lincoln led the nation or signed the Emancipation Proclamation, he was just a barefoot kid running around Knob Creek, Kentucky, setting animals free from traps and snatching frogs out of the jaws of snakes.

One day, young Abe found a stray dog with a broken leg and named him Honey. He had no idea that the scruffy pup would find his way into Abe’s heart, become his best friend, and–one fateful day–save his life.

  • Genre(s): picture book biography, narrative nonfiction
  • Recommended for: PreS-Grade 3
  • Themes: Kentucky, Abraham Lincoln, presidents, dogs, stray animals, US History

Click on the images below to see more new releases for this week:



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    • Hi, Surya,
      I’m in Shanghai, and I have had great experiences ordering from the Book Depository in the UK. They offer free worldwide shipping, and I get the books in about two weeks. They have everything I’ve looked for, even brand-new books that just came out. It comes by post, so if your postal system is decent, you should be able to do that.

      If you are just looking for yourself to read it (and not for a school library), you could buy the e-book and have it in just a few seconds.



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