The 12 books of Christmas: something for every young reader

The 12 books of Christmas: something for every young reader – children’s bookshelf

Black Issues Book Review’s editor for children’s books, Suzanne Rust, chose a dozen books to provide a range of choices for young readers this season, as well as the sampling for young-adult readers that follows:

Fishing Day by Andrea Davis Pinkney Illustrated by Shane W. Evans Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children, November 2003 $15.99, ISBN 0-786-80766-0

Reenie and her mama fish for fun, but their secret bait just reels in the carp. Meanwhile, just down the river, a white father and son are fishing for food and not getting a nibble. What will Reenie do? After all, this is the Jim Crow South. Inspired by Pinkney’s belief that “children, if given the chance to formulate their own ideas about differences and tolerance, will often do what is right.” Fishing Day celebrates little victories.

Shane W. Evans’s beautiful illustrations capture all the nuances of the joys and tensions of a special day.

–Reviewed by Suzanne Rust

Hello, Santa! A Lift-the-Flap Story by Catherine Lukas Illustrated by Bernie Cavender and Etsu Kahata Simon Spotlight/Nick Jr., October 2003 $7.99, ISBN 0-689-85850-7

Little Bill can’t wait for Christmas. Through lift-the-flap layouts, his mother and grandmother morph into elves, a dog becomes a reindeer, and a mailman with a sack of letters becomes the big man himself, Santa Claus, ready with his bag of presents. The tiniest Little Bill fans will be charmed.


Hoop Queens: Poems by Charles R. Smith Jr. Candlewick Press, August 2003 $14.99, ISBN 0-763-61422-X

Hoop Queens captures poetry in motion as it celebrates the stars of women’s basketball. Charles R. Smith rhapsodizes about Teresa Weatherspoon: “Strong gusts of wind begin when cornrow-shaped clouds spin and form as T-Spoon steps on court to perform….” Lisa Leslie: “Graceful gazelle gallops and glides/ fast past defenders with effortless strides.” The book includes 10 other poems, illustrated with action-filled photographs and eye-popping graphics. Hoop Queens offers a fresh approach to the sport through poetry.


Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile by Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret H. Lippert Illustrated by Julie Paschkis Henry Holt & Company, May 2003 $16.95, ISBN 0-805-07047-8

This witty Liberian folktale retold by Paye and Lippert tells the story of a chicken’s accidental encounter with a crocodile. Terrified of being eaten, Mrs. Chicken uses her wits to trick the crocodile. Fantastic illustrations and expressive language will undoubtedly enchant young children, as they breathlessly and expectantly accompany the small chicken on her triumphant adventure.

–Reviewed by Vijay Puran Vijay Puran is a graduate of Bank Street College of Education and a teacher at P.S., Manhattan.

Koi and the Kola Nuts by Verna Aardema Illustrated by Joe Cepeda Aladdin Library, January 2003 $6.99, ISBN 0-689-85677-6

After the chief of a Liberian village dies, an old wise man is summoned to divide all the royal possessions. When the youngest son, Koi, arrives late to collect his share, he is horrified to find that all that is left for him is a scraggly little kola tree. What will Koi do with just a small bag of nuts from the tree? On his journey, he discovers that doing well by others, even with seemingly small gestures, brings the best rewards.


My First Kwanzaa by Karen Katz Henry Holt & Company, November 2003 $14.95, ISBN 0-8050-7077-X

A little girl and her family prepare for Kwanzaa: They pull out the kinara and place the seven candles, they add yams, apples and nuts to the kikombe, and as the first day begins they ask, “Habari gani?” The uninitiated need not fear, as there are clear and simple explanations (and pronunciations) for each of the seven principles. Accompanied with the colorfully patterned and cheerful illustrations, this is the perfect introduction to Kwanzaa for the youngest set.


Shining by Julius Lester Illustrated by John Clapp Silver Whistle/Harcourt Inc., October 2003 $17.00, ISBN 0-152-00773-3

Shining is a child who won’t cry, laugh, talk or utter a sound. In a small African village where she lives, this mysterious behavior fills everyone with suspicion and fear. Not until the day that the wise woman, The One, comes to the village does anyone understand Shining’s true destiny. John Clapp’s hauntingly captivating illustrations are the perfect accompaniment.


Shala’s Double Brown Baby Blues by Lori Aurelia Williams Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster, April 2003 $7.99, ISBN 0-689-82469-6

Through observations in her journal and her original stories, Shayla Dubois, a 13-year-old aspiring writer, is trying to cope with growing pains. Shayla’s best friend, Kambia, is retreating into a fantasy world to escape trauma. Her charming new friend, Lemm, is hiding pain as well. Shayla must now share her birthday with her newborn baby sister, Gift. Williams presents a harsh but hopeful view of the lives of urban teenagers, as Shayla struggles to help her friends and discover “what kind of woman she is going to be.”

–Reviewed by Suzanne Y. Jones Suzanne Y. Jones is a writer, performer and cowriter of the musical fable Lil Budda.

Thunder Rose by Jerdine Nolen Illustrated by Kadir Nelson Silver Whistle/Harcourt Inc., September 2003 $16.00, ISBN 0-152-16472-3

Jerdine Nolen always wanted to write “a tall tale set in the Old West.” She’s done just that with the wonderful Thunder Rose, a story of a little girl born with “the power of thunder and lightening coursing through her veins.” Rose is handy with scrap iron, knows how to calm wild “critters” and single handedly takes on a wicked storm. Kadir Nelson’s ever-brilliant illustrations breathe life into the spirited little cowgirl heroine.


Squizzy the Black Squirrel: A Fabulous Fable of Friendship by Chuck Stone Illustrated by Jeannie Jackson Open Hand Publishing, LLC, July 2003 $16.95, ISBN 0-940-88071-7

In his first book for children, Chuck Stone, a renowned journalist and professor, presents the story of Squizzy, a little black squirrel who teaches seven-year old Marcus not to define the world by color. Oil paintings by artist Jeannie Jackson help to reflect the curious friendship between the two characters.


The Way a Door Closes by Hope Anita Smith Illustrations by Shane E. Evans Henry Holt Books for Young Readers May 2003, $18.95 ISBN 0-805-08477-X

Using a refreshing narrative poetic voice, Hope Anita Smith brings both depth and respect to 13-year-old C.J.’s struggle to reshape his world alter his proud and loving father suddenly loses his job and then leaves his family. With Shane Evans’s vibrant and sensitive illustrations to help relate the story, Smith gently leads her young readers through the anger mad confusion C.J. feels, as he explores his feelings mad tries to understand how his father’s absence affects his mother, his grandmother and his younger siblings.

Smith and Evans have created a wonderful way to introduce young readers to the world of poetry and to their own ability to “hear” in a new and important language.

–Reviewed by Elise Virginia Ward

Who’s Got Game? The Lion or the Mouse? by Toni & Slade Morrison Pictures by Pascal LeMaitre Scribner, September 2003 $16.95, ISBN 0-743-22248-2

Aesop meets Dr. Seuss, and creates a comic book in this adaptation of a classic fable. Although word balloons and framed illustrations are common devices these days, they are put to exceptional use here. A bedtime story winner, this version of the story definitely has game. One word of caution: the text being rendered in cursive script may cause difficulty for some readers.

–Reviewed by Vance Garcia Vance Garcia is a freelance writer and musician living in New York City.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Cox, Matthews & Associates

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group