Life without listening is just noise. We learn to differentiate sounds in our surroundings like a dog’s bark, the back-up beeps of a moving van, or the chime of the doorbell at the entrance of the Asian seafood market. These sounds contribute to the symphony of everyday life. Similarly, we learn to experience words by how they sound and how we say them like how “soar” floats and “sink” is heavy. Listen helps build intuition and recognize empathy for others. It is also a vital form of self-care to listen to one’s own body and mind. This book navigates all of these various forms of listening to establish children’s awareness beyond the noise to focus on their own surroundings, care for those around them, and understand themselves.
Stormy days threaten to stifle the outdoor adventures of our brother and sister protagonists when Grandma calms their anxiety (and the reader’s mind) with a soothing remedy. Close the eyes and open the mind to infinite possibilities. With this advice, brother and sister fly through familiar everyday surroundings with absolutely surreal atmospheres. This book touches on children’s receptiveness to controlling emotions after feeling them while exercising empathy in the process. Even beyond emotions, Woodson opens the minds of the children and adult readers alike to imagine an existence that is better and more inclusive for everyone. Woodson draws from her influence from The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales by Virginia Hamilton with a direct correlation to ancestor’s who were physically bound but mentally flew towards what could be and what now is, but what should be better. We thank them both for this culmination of childlike imagination, open-minded activism, and a call for social justice
The first day of school is hard enough, but especially when Layla has to leave the comforts of the Overlook Woods to study at Unicornia where other unicorns aren’t so friendly upon her arrival. After accidentally popping a ball with her unihorn at recess, getting chewed gum in her tail, and being alone, Layla has had a tough first day. Layla is determined to let her true self shine through on the second day so she adorns herself with a braided mane embellished with flowers and powders glitter on her hooves to sparkle as bright as she does. However, the other unicorns at school humiliate her for the look and start calling her “woodsy” to shame her for who she is and where she comes from. Layla refuses to return to school until her caretaker, Trevin Troll, mends her troubled mind with an affirmation, “Just be ready, and I promise, your time to shine will come.” With replenished self-love in her heart, Layla joins her class on a field trip into the woods when her class faces a series of trials like their teacher getting caught in a Devil’s Shoestring bush. No one knows how to handle these woods, but Layla does. Using her woodland smarts, Layla frees Mrs. Carasom from the bush gets her class through the thick of the woods and they arrive safely back at school. Her class calls her a hero, but Layla responds, “It’s just how I am.” Definitely a perfect book, not about “fitting in,” but about being yourself no matter what anyone else may think.
Happy endings come with a bit of effort. In The Comet, our little protagonist friend, her dad, and pet cat are uprooted from their calm country home and thrust into bustling city life because of dad’s job. The rolling hills are replaced by cramped sidewalks, the glittering vast depth of space in the sky are replaced by a select few stars barely twinkling above the downtown lights, and our once ever-present dad is replaced by the same dad who works too often. This tough transition is made a little easier when a comet is seen from the apartment window just like back at the old house. After a little outburst of self-expression through comet crayon drawings on the walls and communication with dad, this little family makes an effort to bring back old-house traditions where they can and make new ones along the way. With this openness for growth, the new apartment becomes their home just like the adjacent apartments are tiny homes to others also trying to make their own happy endings.
Mapmakers and the Lost Magic is an origin story of discovery and communal hope. Rebel explorer, Alidade, and cautious best friend, Lewis, get into trouble for trekking out-of-bounds of their hometown, Alden. The fearsome Night Coats, authority of Alden, have their eyes on Alidade as she continues to push the boundaries imposed on her that keep the obedient community in line. Alidade knows she must explore. But for what reason? To escape the painful memories embedded in the town where her father passed away? Or is there something hidden in The Valley preceding Alden’s oppressive creation? When Alidade stumbles upon the hidden lair of the Mapmakers, she discovers an ancient creature called a Memri, named Blue, whose power is symbiotic with the land. Alidade soon realizes the oppression of the Night Coats not only affects her community, but also the ailing lands of The Valley which makes Blue very weak. Determined to free her people and replenish The Valley’s natural resources, Alidade takes on the responsibility of the Mapmakers to challenge The Night Coats and save Blue from a dire end. This is a fun read that has the reader rooting for the collapse of a civilization to allow land to heal and to ultimately unify a community. Definitely looking forward to Alidade’s next adventure!