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Reading Matters: Celebrating Books that Ignite the Imagination

By Jean Dugan

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Children find their own resources to help them make sense of a confusing world. A fantastic horse with a flowing golden mane, a small diary covered in red plaid fabric, a dandelion filled with dreams… these are some of the strategies used by young characters in recent books to meet life challenges that may be small but can seem overwhelming to them.

A lonely girl sits among boxes in her new home. Outside, neighborhood children are playing, laughing and inviting her to join them. Does she run outside and climb to their treehouse? No, she curls up under the windowsill, so she won’t be seen. But what’s this on the wall next to her? It’s a bit of Wallpaper, peeling away from the wall—just enough for a yellow bird to peek out. Pull it a little more and our girl is surrounded by a flock of magical birds. A little more and she follows the birds to a jungle where they meet a monster who chases her into a pond filled with lily pads… The fantasy world beyond the wallpaper lasts exactly as long as she needs it, and by book’s end our heroine is brave enough to start up the treehouse ladder.  Thao Lam’s cut paper collages are both simple and fantastically imaginative. Wallpaper by Thao Lam (OwlKids Books, 2018) Ages 4 – 8.

Here’s a way to get to know the natural world up close and personal and have fun doing it. Amanda Thomsen wrote Backyard Adventure based on adventures she remembers having in her own backyard. and she’s subtitled the book “Get Messy, Get Wet, Build Cool Things and Have Tons of Wild Fun!” In 51 free-play activities, from muddy obstacle courses to natural paint bombs to great places to hide, this book encourages parents to set kids free to take risks outdoors. There are way too many fun things to do out there to be bored! Backyard Adventure: Get Messy, Get Wet, Build Cool Things and Have Tons of Wild Fun by Amanda Thomsen, photographs by Kourtney Sellers (Storey Publishing, 2019) All ages.

Chloe is quite sure that Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse, and she is determined to prove it.  Adrian’s shoes have holes, he lives in a house with no yard and he gets free lunch at school. Who would believe his stories about having a beautiful white horse with a golden mane and “the brownest eyes of any horse, anywhere?” Chloe wants to be proven right, but kindness and understanding win, and Adrian turns out to have something far more valuable than any horse. Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horseby Marcy Campbell, illustrated by Corinna Luyken (Dial, 2018) Ages 5 – 9.

Two other young children also face the challenges of moving to A New Home. A boy and his family are moving to Mexico City from New York; a girl and her family are en route from Mexico to New York City. Both are apprehensive, both have similar concerns: Will there be a place for me to play? Will it be too noisy there? And most important, will I make new friends? This is a comforting little book with illustrations that are loaded with visual information about the similarities and differences between both cities, and the universal need to be in a place that feels like home. A New Home by Tania de Regil (Candlewick Press, 2019) Ages 3 – 7.

Anne Frank, from the Little People, BIG DREAMS series by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara, introduces the young heroine to a new generation of early readers. This engaging series focuses on over 40 historical and contemporary dreamers, from Jane Austen to Audrey Hepburn, David Bowie to Mother Teresa. In Anne Frank, Sanchez Vegara focuses on the young girl’s hope of growing up to become a writer, and on her dedication to writing in her red plaid diary for hours every day in her attic hideout. Anne’s death is only detailed in an illustrated afterword; it’s her dream of making a better world that is at the forefront of this short, simple biography. Anne Frank by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara, illustrated by Sveta Dorosheva (Little People, BIG DREAMS Series, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2018) Ages 5 – 8.

We meet Carmela on her seventh birthday, when she is filled with wishes. Some are those of any child, such as a 24/7 candy machine for her bedroom. Other wishes are more difficult to grant – comfort for a mother who cleans hotel rooms for a living, or documentation for her migrant-worker father so he can return to his family. Matt De La Pena and Christian Robinson received many awards for their earlier collaboration, Last Stop on Market Street, and Carmela Full of Wishes is just as beautiful, just as touching, with its story of one special day in the life of a little girl with a big dream. Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt De La Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018) Ages 5 – 8.


Author Bio

Jean Dugan, a long-time friend of Exchange, has been connecting kids with books for over 40 years. She helped establish a library program in the ­elementary schools of Gloucester, Massachusetts, and later brought her love of children’s ­literature to the public library there. This is one more opportunity for her to share the best new books with children and those who care about them.