Undoubtedly, 2020 has been a challenging year. Pandemics, protests and politics have been front and center. During times of change, pain and conflict, we can return to listening to the stories of others. These picture books are stories I hold near and dear. The best part about these books is that they are accessible to people of all ages. Children, teenagers and adults alike are able to take lessons from these books. Perhaps the older we grow, the more appreciation we have for these “children’s” books.
- Angus All Aglow (2018) by Heather Smith, illustrated by Alice Carter
I can’t help but smile while reading this beautiful book. This is a simple, powerful read – showing the importance of friendship and individuality identity. While many adults and other children in his life judge Angus for loving sparkly things, a classmate sparks an unlikely friendship with him. Robin Stevenson, award-winning author of Pride: Celebrating Diversity & Community puts it best, Angus All Aglow is “A heartwarming and sparkly story of friendship. We all glow a little more brightly when we are able to be ourselves.”
- Will You Fill My Bucket? Daily Acts of Love Around the World by Carol McCloud and Karen Wells, illustrated by Penny Webber
Will You Fill My Bucket show simple acts of kindness in settings around the world. Using bright and colourful images, and a simple rhyming scheme, this lovely book is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. If you enjoy this book, I’d definitely recommend checking out similar books such as McCloud’s Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness For Kids and How Full Is Your Bucket? by Mary Reckmeyer and Tom Rath. These stories remind us of simple acts of kindness, and how these small actions put together can make valuable change in the world. We can all fill someone’s bucket! Especially in 2020, the need for bucket filling is in high demand.
- Lights For Gita (1994) by Rachna Gilmore, illustrated by Alice Priestley
While this book may be older than many of us, its lessons are still prevalent – if not more important – in today’s society. Lights For Gita tells the story of a young girl and her experience with immigration to Canada. Spending her first Divali away from family and friends is hard for Gita, as she feels alone and isolated. This beautiful story about identity and friendship reminds us of what it feels like to be alone, and the value of a good friend during tough times.
- From Far Away (1995) by Robert Munsch and Saoussan Askar, illustrated by Michael Martchenko
If you’re anything like me, hearing the name Robert Munsch brings back warm childhood memories. A creative, innovative and inclusive author, Musch’s story with author Saoussan Askar is based on a true story. Saoussan and her family fled Lebanon due to war, and immigrated to Canada. She tells the story of her first Halloween in Canada, and the kindness she was shown by a special teacher. Munsch started writing this book after 7-year old Saoussan wrote him and told her story. It is heartfelt, and a beautiful collaboration.
- Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o
Is there anything Lupita Nyong’o can’t do? Academy award winner Lupita Nyong’o has written a beautiful and heartwarming story about a young girl named Sulwe who questions her beauty and worth due to her dark skin. Nyong’o uses the characters of Day and Night to build Sulwe’s confidence. Illustrator Vashti Harrison, an NAACP Image Award winner, has illustrated this text beautifully, using golden yellow and midnight purple colours to show the beauty they bring out in each other. Furthermore, this story inspires us to search and find our own beauty, from within. In an Instagram post, Nyong’o says: “With Sulwe, I wanted to give dark skin permission to exist in the world of dreams and imagination, where possibilities and potential really grow.”
*this book available now in other languages, including Kenya’s national language, Swahili
- I am Not a Number (2016) by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, illustrated by Gillian Newland
I Am Not a Number is a clear example of Indigenous brilliance and resurgence. It is a thoughtful and insightful piece of literature that can educate people of all ages about the trauma created by residential schooling. It tells us the story of a young girl named Irene, and her journey through the residential school system. In the afterward section, written by author Jenny Kay Dupuis, we learn that this story is based on the true story of her grandmother, an Anishinaabe woman born in what we know today as Northern Ontario. This personal and emotional story is a story accessible to all; I am currently studying it in a university course, but I can’t wait to share it with the little people in my life as well. It is a special read.
- The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family (2019) by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S.K. Ali, illustrated by Hatem Aly
Olympian medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad writes a story, proud of her heritage, culture and religion. She celebrates her hijab in a story about two sisters – in fact, the author’s sisters, Asiya and Faizah, are the characters in this book. She recognizes the hijab as beautiful, sending a message to all young readers who wear hijabs, that they too, are beautiful! Muhammad is a symbol of strength and leadership. She is the first Muslim American woman wearing a hijab to compete for the United States in the Olympic games. She won a bronze medal, and has become an activist, speaker and entrepreneur in the recent years. She is an inspiration to us all.
- I Am Human: A Book of Empathy (2018) by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Rounding out our list is this beautiful little story of empathy, kindness, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness. As stated on the front panel of the book, “I Am Human affirms that we can make good choices by acting with compassion and having empathy for others and ourselves. When we find common ground, we can feel connected to the great world around us and mindfully strive to be our best selves.” If you love this book as much as I do, I’d also recommend checking out the “sister books”, I Am Yoga and I am Peace.
These authors and illustrators all come from different backgrounds, races, and cultures. They are different ages, different genders, different religions, and tell different stories. What they share however, is a passion for educating and inspiring all of us. Each book listed above asks us to love, understand, empathize, care and be kind to one another. In a world filled with fear and hate in 2020, these books are a reminder of what really matters; they speak universal truths.