Drum roll please…here are my Top 5 books for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.
A is For Activist by Innosanto Nagara (Triangle Square Books for Young Readers, 2013)
By the time my baby shower rolled around, I had received three copies of this book which is clearly a testament to the awesome company I keep. Anyway, it is an alphabet board book highlighting various progressive concepts. F is for Feminist! J is for Justice! By far, my favorite page is R. “Radical Reds! Rabble Rousing Riff-Raff…Really?” The corresponding picture is of a candlelight vigil with the likes of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez, and St. Oscar Romero standing within the crowd. Many of the concepts mentioned in the book are too sophisticated to easily explain to young children. The author did parents a favor by hiding the image of a cat on every page to keep everyone engaged.
All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon (Little Simon, 2009)
This Caldecott Honor Book depicts the beauty and goodness of a simple lifestyle rooted in community. It offers an almost-spiritual mediation on why less truly is more. This timeless story follows one family as they go through their day by visiting the beach, working at a community garden, and being rained out of their afternoon fun. The evening’s activities bring them to an extended family gathering. “Nanas, papas, cousins, kin, Piano, harp, and violin Babies passed from neck to knee” None of these single moments would merit an Instagram post in today’s world. Yet, all of them together signal the extraordinary wonder of a life lived in love and in communion with others. “Everything you hear, smell, see All the world is everything Everything is you and me” It’s just so good.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes her Mark (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016)
This biography frames RBG’s whole life as one of disagreement and dissent with the social conventions expected throughout her life. It begins with Ruth as a little girl, being told by others that her purpose in life will be marriage. Her mother disagreed and pulled Ruth into the world of the local library. With every obstacle, like not being hired for a job despite being the first in her law school class, RBG continues to persevere. After joining the Supreme Court in 1993, RBG’s dissents become the focal point of the story. “I Dissent, Justice Ginsburg said when the court wouldn’t help women or African Americans or immigrants who had been treated unfairly at work.” I particularly like the page that celebrates the friendship between RBG and the late Justice Scalia. No matter how vehemently they disagreed with each other, there was space for common ground. I think that many children will naturally relate to this book because they so often bristle at the implication that they cannot do certain things. This book is ultimately a testament to the resilience possible in all of us.
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015)
This book has won numerous awards including the Caldecott Honor, John Newbury Medal and Coretta Scott King award. It is a story of the bus ride that CJ and his nana take after church. CJ feels sorry for himself most of this journey, resenting the very fact that they take the bus in the first place. CJs emotions are contrasted by his nana’s pervasive sense of abundance. She seemingly befriends everyone she encounters on the journey. When they arrive at their destination, the graffiti-tagged streets look particularly distressed to CJ. “Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt, CJ, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.” CJ looks up to see an arcing rainbow over their destination, which is finally revealed to be the soup-kitchen where they regularly volunteer. I feel blessed to know many nanas; humble servant leaders who live their life rooted in relationship with others. Our children could learn so much from each of them.
The Mommy Book by Todd Parr (Little, Brown and Company, 2002)
Todd Parr is the author and illustrator of dozens of children’s books, including the bestselling I Love You Bookand The Earth Book. If I were to characterize these books in one word it would be inclusive. His illustrations use greens, purples and other basic colors as skin tone. Characters are depicted with different abilities and Parr emphasizes the value of each person in playful ways. “Some Mommies like to cook. Some mommies like to order pizza.” Todd Parr just brings so much color and joy into these books, all while helping his readers to express big feelings.