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Staff Picks

Children 2021

Recommended by Mary Burns from Northeast Dade – Aventura Branch.

In partnership with

The Children's Trust Logo


Seldom has a new year ever been welcomed with more anticipation and hope. Wherever you are from, chances are last year was among your most difficult ever. This month’s selection of books remind us that there is always hope on the horizon. Whether you take your inspiration from the music of John Lennon, the selflessness of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., or from fantasy, traditional celebrations and customs, you will find that each book is full of hope and a wonderful way to have our children view the upcoming twelve months.

Written by John Lennon, Illustrated by Jean Jullien

Young readers are introduced to John Lennon’s beautiful and famous song, “Imagine,” through the story of a passenger pigeon’s quest to spread a message of world peace. Along with the mail stuffed in his carrier bag, Passenger Pigeon carries an olive branch. Our protagonist leaves a dark underground subway train car crammed full of people who are, “Imagin[ing] there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try.” He comes up the stairs to be greeted the world above and a blue sky. In a pivotal moment, he realizes there is, “No hell below us. Above us, only sky.” So, he takes flight with his bag and olive branch, flying out to sea, where he can begin to see for himself and encourage all the people and other birds he meets to, “Imagine all the people living life in peace.” He then continues his journey, gathering fellow birds to adopt his example and his message of brotherhood.

Passenger pigeon and the world around him are illustrated in bold colors and outlines. Yoko Ono Lennon’s stirring forward also helps to bring to the fore the message of all we can do “to make a difference every day…Then the world truly will live as one.” French graphic artist and photographer Jean Jullien has designed costumes, clothing, posters, and he has illustrated popular several books for children, including Before & After and Why the Face? (Ages 3-7 years)

Illustration of a pigeon holding an olive branch

Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford, Illustrated by James E. Ransome

Kids and parents, have you ever wondered how to take charge and change the world? It can involve modeling one’s self after the King -- Martin Luther King, Jr., that is. It begins by enjoying creation and keeping the faith of one’s ancestors (as with, say, a family reunion), knowing that bigotry hurts, and remembering what it felt like when we were treated unfairly even at a young age (and forcibly stopped from playing with others with different skin colors than ours). To model ourselves after King, we need to admit when we’ve done wrong, to say sorry and sincerely mean it (especially when we have caused mischief and mayhem harmful to others). Also, we need to be conscious of divisions sown between people that we’ve experienced and really know should be there. As readers turn page after page, another piece of King’s wisdom is introduced with the positive affirmation, “You can be a King.” The message is movingly illustrated and easy to understand.

A brief, helpful history of King and his accomplishments are provided in the author’s note at the book’s end. Illustrations by award-winning James Ransome help make this is a truly awesome, simple introduction to King for young readers, from start to finish.  (Ages 3 to 8 years).

Portrait of Dr Martin Luther King Jr

The Bear and the Star
Written by Lola M. Schaefer, Illustrated by Bethanne Andersen

One early December morning, Bear wakes up and sees a new, special star that tells him it is time to begin searching. But searching for what? Bear, it turns out, is searching for a strong, tall tree, “that would be the center/of all to come.” When Bear finally comes upon the most majestic evergreen on the top of a windswept hill, he roars and bellows to the East, West, North, and South. But how can his call be heard across the ends of the earth by other creatures? It can be heard simply because, “…it was time…” As Bear continues to roar and lumber through the woods, other wild inhabitants start to follow him, curious and intrigued. Eventually people of all walks of life stop their work as well and start their quests as well, realizing also that, “It was time.” But what exactly is it time for all the living creatures to celebrate and discover, as Bear has already found the evergreen tree?! Read this wonderful, warm story to find out.

A former elementary school teacher, author Lola M. Schaefer is the author of Because of an Acorn and Lifetime. Illustrator and painter Bethanne Andersen, also a professor at Brigham Young university, has illustrated several children’s books, including A Packet of Seeds, and Seven Brave Women. Young readers and parents will like Bear’s expressive eyes and the natural beauty of Bear’s world and that of other creatures, and how Andersen uses perspective to make readers feel as if they are there in the book enjoying the heavens and the special, magnificent tree close up.  (Ages 4-8 years)

A bear peeking out of tree on a snowy hill, stars fill the night sky

Every Month is a New Year
Written by Marilyn Singer, Collage Illustrations by Susan L. Roth

We all know and love to celebrate New Year’s at midnight on December 31st and the next day on January 1st.  What if we could enjoy the New Year every month of the year?! In charming verse and eye-catching collages, Marilyn Singer shows us how the new year is celebrated around world in many countries and cultures, with festivities that are secular, religious, or a combination of both. There are the famous Midnight Ball Drop on New Year’s Eve in New York City, Hogmanay in Scotland, the Two New Years in Russia that two sisters can enjoy over two weeks, and the Lunar New Year and Dragon Dance in China, and others. My personal favorites are Songkran, celebrated in April in Thailand with water fights, and Enkutatash, celebrated in September in Ethiopia with springtime daisies.

Organized in a calendar format, young readers also can be immersed in Susan Roth’s collage art, featuring people with the most magnificently drawn eyes and expressions taking part in festivities both small and large, quiet and loud. There’s also a handy glossary of definitions and additional sources for the even more curious minds and researchers (Ages 4-9 years)

Circular collage subdivided with images depicting different holidays

Binny’s Diwali
Written by Thrity Umrigar, Illustrated by Nidhi Chanani

Binny is nervous because she has to share what she knows about Diwali, the five-day Hindi Festival of Lights, with her class. On the big day, wearing new clothes and with a stomach full of breakfast, orange sweet jalebis, and milky pedas, Binny feels almost ready. But when the moment comes to share in front of the class, she’s tongue-tied. But then, after some encouragement from the teacher, and by remembering what Mom had told her about lighting little oil lamps known as diyas, known for bringing good luck into homes and for chasing away the darkness – Binny knows all of what she needs to say!  Read the rest of the story to find out what Diwali is about!

There’s also an afterward providing young readers the legend behind Diwali (or Deepavali), an outline of what people do during the five day celebration, and personal notes from the author and illustrator on how they enjoyed the holiday while growing up in India alongside others of diverse faiths and backgrounds, as well as in the United States. San Francisco-based illustrator Nidhi Chanani brings Binny and this wonderful holiday to life in beautiful vivid colors of night and light.  (Ages 4-8 years)

A little girl smiling while looking at a small flame