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Try These Books During Black History Month-- Or Any Time of Year

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Michael Spooneybarger/ CREO
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Illustrations play a major part in the appeal of books to children to whom adults read aloud. The visual elements of picture books strike chords when they complement the text, reveal nuances of the story and reflect the world in which youngsters actually live.

For diverse scenarios, consider two new titles, “Happy in Our Skin” and “Last Stop on Market Street.”  Reading them is a personal way to celebrate Black History Month, but a good book is a good book every day of the year.

Not every child is thin. Not every child has red hair, or brown hair or black hair. When picture books feature scenes in classrooms, grocery stores or parks, children delight in seeing someone in the drawing of crowds who likes like they do, experts say. Such accurate reflections help children make a meaningful connection to books.

The first selection, called “Happy In Our Skin” by Fran Manushkin (Candlewick Press, $15.99; ages 4 to 7) abounds with instances for children to see themselves. Here is an excerpt.

“Look at you. You look so cute in your brand-new birthday suit. This is how we all begin: small and happy in our skin. Bouquets of babies sweet to hold: cocoa brown, cinnamon, and honey gold. Ginger-colored babies peaches and cream, too—splendid skin for me, splendid skin for you!” 

Lauren Tobia did the illustrations for “In Our Skin.”

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Credit Michael Spooneybarger/ CREO
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Another selection that realistically depicts diversity is “Last Stop on Market Street.” By Matt de la Pena ( G.P. Putnam’s Sons $16.99, ages 5 and older). In this story, a boy named CJ. accompanied his grandmother on a bus ride to a soup kitchen. Along the way, the duo passes some gritty streets scenes, but Nana points out a rainbow visible in a sliver of sky above the broken streetlamps.

When CJ and Nana arrive at the soup kitchen, CJ, busies himself by holding the bowls as people ladle the soup into them. Soon, CJ forgets he would rather be out playing with his friends and delights in the company of those immediately surrounding him.

The vibrantly illustrated book, with its message about helping those who are less fortunate, recently garnered several awards at the American Library Association mid-winter meeting. Besides the Newbery award for best plot, and the Caldecott honor award for illustrations, Last Stop won the Corretta Scott King Book Award for a book intended for children and young adults that “demonstrates an appreciation of African-American culture and universal human values.”

Christian Robinson created the images for “Last Stop.”