book coverRay, Mary Lyn. Stars. Illustrated by Marla Frazee. Beach Lane, 2011. 32 pages (978–1–4424-2249–0)

Ages 2-6

“A star is how you know it’s almost night. / As soon as you see one, there’s another, and another. / And the dark that comes doesn’t feel so dark.” From opening pages that show the first evening star appearing in a dusky blue sky to the final image of a dark night sky strewn with an array of stars, Mary Lin Ray’s lyrical words and Marla Frazee’s luminous illustrations describe the stars all around us. A star cut from shiny paper and pinned to shirt designates a sheriff, or can convert a stick to a wand ideal for wish-making. There are days when you can feel “shiny as a star,” and days when the opposite is true. And stars can be found in many places: in the white flowers of strawberry plants before they bear fruit, in falling snowflakes, and as dandelion seeds blown into the air. Illustrations show a diverse cast of children and families finding the stars in their world in a child-centered picture book that ends with them gathered as a group watching nighttime stars appear in the sky above. These are temporarily obscured by the bloom of firework stars before reappearing as they always do, “every night. Everywhere.”  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Wilson-Max, Ken. Max’s Starry Night.  Jump at the Sun / Hyperion, 2001. 24 pages (0-7868-0553-6)

Ages 2 – 4

When young Max and Little Pink, his pig, go outside to wish on a star, Big Blue, his elephant, is afraid to come because it’s too dark. The next day, Little Pink teases Big Blue about being afraid, until Max points out that Little Pink is afraid of swinging on the high swings, but Big Blue never teases him. Then Max comes up with a way for all three of them to enjoy the stars in this sweet and satisfying story set against bold, richly colored paintings and featuring a creative, brown-skinned child.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Barton, Byron. I Want  to Be an Astronaut. Thomas Y. Crowell, 1988. 32 pages (0-694-00261-5)

Ages 3-6

“I want to be an astronaut/a member of the crew/and fly on the shuttle/into outer space…” proclaims the young female protagonist of this simple poetic story of high aspirations. Barton’s bold figures of astronauts, shuttles, and satellites and Planet Earth are set against a deep blue background suggesting the vastness of outer space.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Messner, Kate.
Over and Under the Pond. Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal. Chronicle, 2017. 40 pages (978–1–4521–4542–6)

Ages 4-8

The activity above and beneath the water of a pond on which a boy and his mother are paddling a canoe as sunset approaches is distinct yet parallel in this lyrical account. Over the pond a blackbird flies with grass for her nest, a moose eats water lilies, a young goldfish is ready to fly. Under the pond, caddisfly larva makes a home in pebbles and sand, a beaver eats roots, tadpoles begin to transform into frogs. Each over/under pairing emphasizes both what the boy can see and what his mother knows about the natural world. End matter provides more information about pond ecosystems and the behavior of animals mentioned. The mixed-media illustrations on matte paper capture life above and beneath the water in strikingly composed scenes from a variety of perspectives. The boy and his mother are Black. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Lamba, Marie, and Baldev Lamba.
Green Green: A Community Gardening Story. Illustrated by Sonia Sánchez. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2017.  32 pages (978–0–374–32797–2)

Ages 3-7

“Green green / fresh and clean. Brown brown / dig the ground,” begins this story as a group of children play in a grassy meadow and tend to a sprawling backyard garden. Soon, though, “brown brown / dig the ground” takes on  a less pleasant meaning, as bulldozers and trucks begin clearing the land to make way for new buildings. Grass and flowers become stone and metal as the city expands. In the midst of the concrete jungle, what was once a grassy lot becomes a makeshift junkyard. Gardens are reduced to planters on balconies. Then one day, a little girl with a shovel turns the book’s familiar refrain into a question. “Brown brown / dig the ground?” An affirming “Brown brown / dig the ground!” sounds as a diverse group of neighbors gathers in a large lot to remove the litter, till the earth, and plant seeds. The garden they create grows into a colorful, verdant, once-again-sprawling place of beauty in the midst of the city. Sánchez’s illustrations are as vibrant as the community garden that blooms in these pages. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Smith, Monique Gray. You Hold Me Up. Illustrated by Danielle Daniel. Orca, 2017. 32 pages (978–1–4598–1447–9)

Ages 3-8

What does it mean to hold someone up? To give and receive support? A series of simple, declarative statements offers answers to those questions for young children. “You hold me up when you share with me.” Or play, or learn, or laugh, or sing, or listen with me. “You hold me up when you comfort me.” Or respect me. Each action statement is accompanied by a full-page image of individuals engaged in the stated behavior in a book that creates space for children to talk about what each action means, and/or to think about how it might look in their own life. The author is Cree and Lakota and the full-page gouache, acrylic, and pencil illustrations show Indigenous children and adults in images that are stylized but have the warm emotional weight of scenes from real life in a picture book that affirms the importance and power of acts of kindness and connection. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Fleming, Candace. Go Sleep in Your Own Bed! Illustrated by Lori Nichols. Schwartz & Wade, 2017. 32 pages (978–0–375–86648–7)

Ages 2-4

A pleasingly circular barnyard story in which each animal, asleep in the wrong bed, is awakened in turn by the animal who belongs there with the repeated command: “Go sleep in your own bed!” But each one finds an interloper, who is given the same command. In the end the last creature, a cat, is picked up from his spot on the porch and carried inside by a little girl who happily shares her bed with him. With the strong pattern and repetition, as well as the funny species-specific interjections and onomatopoeia, this will make a terrific read-aloud for young children. The amusing acrylic illustrations give added personalities to each of the animals.  ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Hest, Amy. Buster and the Baby. Illustrated by Polly Dunbar. Candlewick Press, 2017. 32 pages (978–0–7636–8787–8)

Ages 2-4

Buster is a scruffy little white dog who delights in hiding from an active toddler. Thump, thump, thump goes his heart as he waits to be found under the table, behind an arm chair, behind a large teddy bear. Each time baby is equal to the task, finding Buster with squealing and whirling as the two play throughout the day. Hest’s patterned text and Dunbar’s lively illustrations capture the anticipation and excitement of waiting to be found in the classic game of hide-and-seek, one that has a playful reversal and cozy conclusion as the day draws to a close.  ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Sidman, Joyce. Round. Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. 32 pages (978–0–544–38761–4)

Ages 3-6

“I love round things,” says the young child narrator of this picture book, who goes on to give examples of round things found in nature, from the obvious (oranges, seeds) to the harder-to-find (rings on a tree stump, small butterfly eggs). Some things that don’t start out round become round with time (a mushroom grows into its curves; once-jagged rocks smooth over many years). Round can be ephemeral (bubbles, ripples in a pond) or forever (the moon and stars). “I can be round, too,” the girl says, “in a circle of friends” or curled up alone. Intimate yet expansive, the simply stated observations are childlike even as they suggest a deep, visceral human response to roundness: the desire to touch, the feeling of being secure. Brief examples at story’s end reference both science and aesthetics in discussing why so many things in nature are round. Ample curves in the flat, naïve-style illustrations featuring bright colors with a muted, slightly retro feel complement the quiet narrative.  ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Oikawa, Kenji, and Mayuko Takeuchi.
Circle, Triangle, Elephant! A Book of Shapes & Surprises. Translated from the Japanese. U.S. edition: Phaidon, 2017. 20 pages. (978–0–7148–7411–1)

Ages 1-3

In this delightful board book featuring three stacked objects on each page, the expectation of a simple pattern of geometric shapes (“Triangle, circle, square / Circle, rectangle, triangle”) is interrupted when an elephant makes a sudden appearance on page three (“Triangle, elephant ?!, circle”). After that all bets are off as each flip of the page throws an unexpected object into the mix. Expertly playing on the concept of humor through incongruity, this silly book would make an excellent read-aloud with a group or one-on-one. Clear illustrations also invite children to participate in a point-and-say reading experience. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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Kvasnosky, Laura McGee. Little Wolf’s First Howling. Illustrated by Laura McGee Kvasnosky and Kate Harvey McGee. Candlewick Press, 2017.  24 pages (978–0–7636–8971–1)

Ages 3-7

Little Wolf is eager to go out at night with his father, Big Wolf, to learn how to howl. As the moon begins to rise, Big Wolf demonstrates a howl that ends with a lengthy “ooooooooooo.” Little Wolf’s first attempt starts strong but his enthusiasm gets the better of him as he brings it to a close: “I’m hoooowling, ’oooowling, ’ooooowling!” Which isn’t, Big Wolf notes, “proper howling form.” Big Wolf demonstrates. Little Wolf tries again. This time, his howl starts strong and ends with a jazzy “dibbity dobbity skibbity skobbity skooo-wooooo-woooooooooooo.” Big Wolf praises Little Wolf for many things. “But your howling. It is not proper howling form.” So they try again. This time, Little Wolf ’s ending is even more unrestrained. And Big Wolf can’t help it: he starts tail-wagging and ear-twitching and paw-tapping along. Distinctive digitally rendered paintings reminiscent of colored block prints create an inviting backdrop for a story begging to be howled aloud. ©2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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by Irene Dickson. U.S. edition: Nosy Crow / Candlewick, 2016

Ages 2-4


Two kids. Two sets of blocks. Two separate building projects. When Benji, who is building with blue blocks, wants one of Ruby’s red blocks, he takes it. She grabs it back. In the ensuing push and pull of “Mine!” they stumble and both of their towers come crashing down. “Uh-oh.” Momentary regret becomes shared opportunity as Ruby and Benji begin building with both red and blue blocks—together. A square, slightly oversized picture book unfolds in clean-lined, uncluttered, inviting mixed-media illustrations. A handful of well-chosen words pair with images that have much to notice, like the fact that Ruby’s clothes match the red blocks and Benji’s match the blue. At volume’s end they are joined by Gus, whose shirt and blocks are green. “What will they do now?” The answer in this picture book showing three racially diverse children is suggested on the closing endpapers. Isn’t cooperation grand? © 2018 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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