The “Thoughtful Citizen” badge is awarded to recognize exceptional books that promote exemplary citizenship.
Sundar is raised in a village who celebrates the birth of boys with the banging of pots and pans and the sharing of sweets, but meets the birth of girls with silent disappointment. Seeing the land around the village ravaged by marble mining, Sundar decides to act for change and runs to become (and is chosen to be) his village leader. After the death of his oldest daughter (paralleling his loss of his mother as a boy), Sundar’s grief finds solace in planting trees in her memory and is inspired to honor all girls by planting 111 trees whenever a girl is born, and ensuring they have an education rather than becoming child brides. While Sundar initially experiences resistance, “slowly, very slowly, the villagers begin to understand that by welcoming girls and planting trees, they might bring balance back to nature.” A true story, the message of this book is poignant and one of overwhelming hope for the change a single individual can inspire. By breaking the cycle and investing in the future of both women and the environment, the village of Piplantri flourishes and enters a cycle of sustainable joy. The illustrations—created with a stunning color palette—have a cultural flavor that feels fresh and modern and engage the reader with their art and emotion.
Grace lives next door to Larry, an elderly teacher with a beautiful garden filled with unusual vegetables. She spends all her spare time there as they solve problems together (“We can figure this out”), from planting marigolds among the carrots to deter bugs (a tip Grace discovers on a trip to the library!) to building chicken wire cages around the tomatoes to keep out the squirrels. As a teacher, Larry helps his students form community ties by nurturing their own tomato plants and then gifting them to someone with a note explaining the gift. When a fellow neighbor builds a wall that blocks the sunlight (“The plants looked wilted. So did Larry.”), Grace draws inspiration from Larry and mediates the situation with seeds, a note, and some kindness in a way that brings the story full circle. Reich’s illustrations are gorgeous and inviting, filled with friendly-looking characters, uniquely stylized plants, and beautiful colors. Together with Alary’s text, they create a sense of growth and community that encircles readers with a feeling of empowerment and a desire to make the world a better place (and maybe even plant a garden!). Problem solving, conflict resolution, friendship, and creating community are all on display in this authentic story.
Mabel is fascinated by the stars and by her grandfather’s stories about his life growing up on the prairie, where he could see thousands of them. Disappointed by the mere thirty-seven stars she can see from the tree in her yard, Mabel and Grandpa embark on a quest to find more stars, first by going to the end of the street, then by seeking their neighbors’ help in making the sky darker by turning out their lights. Their quest becomes a full-blown community effort as various townspeople join in Mabel and Grandpa’s attempts to persuade the mayor to turn off the streetlights, culminating in a new tradition of stargazing each month at the new moon. The tender and supportive relationship between grandfather and granddaughter speaks to the power of multi-generational relationships in creating meaning and purpose for both. Mabel’s sincerity and authenticity, combined with her persistence and problem-solving, give young readers an example of positive community activism at their level and highlights the impact that a single person can have in galvanizing a larger group. Davenier’s fluid and colorful ink illustrations are light-hearted and wonderfully portray Mabel’s young optimism and vigor, as well as the marvels of the sky.
In his debut children’s book, LeBron James teams up with New York Times bestselling illustrator Nina Mata to create a powerful book showcasing his I PROMISE program and emphasizing to young students the importance of going to school and keeping commitments to oneself and others. James demonstrates a respectable knack for poetry, with strong cadence and original rhymes, as he sets forth various commitments to school children—speak kindly, try new things, stand up for what’s right, and more. The inclusion of sports ideas (“I promise to run full court / and show up each time, / to get right back up / and let my magic shine.”) hits just the right balance in acknowledging James’ status as a superstar athlete without overpowering the book and limiting its appeal only to young readers interested in sports. Mata’s illustrations are lively and diverse, adding a level of specificity to broad principles that helps children see concrete applications of each commitment. For example, as James writes, “I promise to respect my elders and peers the same. / To leave new places better than I came,” Mata’s illustrations show a child high fiving the school crossing guard while a classmate tosses a plastic bottle in a recycling bin. This is truly a book readers of all ages and walks of life can appreciate, regardless of their personal level of King James fandom.
On Musa’s first day at kindergarten, he didn’t know any of his other classmates. His wise teacher announces to the class that throughout the year, they’ll each be sharing their favorite day of the year and celebrating with one another, and that by the end of the year they will all be close friends. Though Musa is hesitant at first, he and the rest of his class enjoy sharing and celebrating together their favorite days, like Eid Al-Fitr, Rosh Hashanah, Pi Day, and Las Posadas. As each child shares about their favorite day, the rest of the class can see why it’s their favorite. At the end of the school year, the teacher gives each student a calendar with all of their favorite days on it to celebrate and remember one another. As a book in the genre of inclusion, this story stands out in it’s choice to focus on an appealing subject to children—their favorite day of the year—to help them get acquainted with other cultures and families. Ali’s story develops naturally, educationally, and enjoyably without feeling contrived, and Bell’s interesting illustrations perfectly enhance the celebration of diversity portrayed through the story. The holidays shared don’t focus much on the religious aspect, but rather the celebratory rituals and traditions accompanying a holiday, though a variety of religious holidays are shared. Musa’s back-to-school experience will reassure anxious children and the holidays included will expand interest in learning about different cultures.
In the midst of detailed articles, an award-winning documentary (Won’t You Be My Neighbor?), and an acclaimed feature film (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), this picture book biography about Fred Rogers not only holds its own but adds to the body of quality media paying tribute to an exemplary life. Opening with a depiction of Rogers’ iconic set for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood—complete with his familiar sneakers sitting unlaced by the bench—it flashes back to Rogers’ childhood. With beautiful alliterations, the biography describes Rogers’ discovery of music as an outlet for his strong emotions: “Worry fretted and fussed . . . and faded.” And “Sadness wailed and whimpered . . . and waned.” The story also notes the impact of his Grandfather McFeely’s reassurance: “You made this day a really special day just by being yourself . . . and I happen to like you just the way you are.” Tracking Rogers’ life through influential episodes in high school, college, and early television programming, it climaxes with Rogers’ visit to the U.S. Capitol, where his recital of his song “What Do You Do with the Mad That You Feel?” secures public funding for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood for years to come. Throughout, Renauld skillfully weaves memorable stories with Rogers’ theme of coping with emotions, while Barrager’s gouache and colored-pencil illustrations are whimsical and fittingly full of emotion, displayed literally on many pages with waves of hearts and lines flowing from Rogers.
A nameless little girl living in the heart of the city and accompanied by her faithful stuffed panda bear finds beauty where others hurry by. She nurtures a seedling, first in a tin can, and then outside, until she has to “leave for a while.” She leaves in charge the only person she can trust to lovingly care for the garden: her bear, but not before filling him with “snuggles and cuddles.” In her absence, the garden blossoms and grows—thanks to the help of her community, who, noticing her garden, begin slowing down and stepping in to create a space to grow, play, and love. The impact of the story is magnified by the inclusion of a short Author’s Note informing readers that The Bear’s Garden is inspired by actual events, including an abandoned teddy bear that helped inspire a community garden. The descriptive text is full of imagery (“the girl’s imagination spilled onto the sidewalk, rolled across the street, and sprouted”) and a soft-touch of humor (“She thought maybe she could whisper ‘I believe in you’ from far away, but she didn’t have enough string”) that weave together to create a heartfelt story. All throughout—and even in the endpapers—the illustrations add layers of meaning and understanding to the story with well-chosen details, from the bear’s slight facial expressions and the little girl’s singular pajama appearance, to the love-inspired, bear-face graffiti location marker.
Based on the true story of Hosea Missouri Taylor Jr., Hosea Plays On follows Hosea through a seemingly simple day: he leaves his house, greets a neighbor kid, takes the bus to the public market, and plays his saxophone outside his favorite coffee shop, wowing a crowd of onlookers who plop some tips in his velvet-lined case. But as the day and story ends, Hosea’s deeper contribution to the community emerges unexpectedly in a poignant act of kindness and generosity as he uses his earnings to gift a trumpet to the neighbor kid he first greeted, a selflessness readers realize he has actually repeated multiple times with other aspiring musicians. The skillful development of the storyline—complete with the suspense created by Hosea’s thought that “Maybe—just maybe—he would earn enough today” and culminating in a moment of epiphany and delight for the reader—stirs emotions and sparks inspiration. Rich descriptive phrases (“Hosea clomped down the steps and shuffled through brittle, dancing leaves.”) are hallmarks of the story and make for a beautiful reading experience. The illustrations, awash with vibrant colors and beautifully executed in a style distinctive to Evans, are playful and show that Evans remembers (as is forgotten too often in books based on true stories) that exact realism in illustrations can be overrated when presented with the opportunity to inspire and entertain.
Phone calls at midnight. Overnight drives through snow and ice. Digging through dumpsters for old books. These efforts and more are the story of Aaron Lansky, an otherwise “All-american boy” growing up in Massachusetts whose interest in family history leads him on an unsought mission to save and preserve Yiddish literature. Ever since he learned that upon her arrival in America, his grandmother’s suitcase of heirlooms was tossed into the ocean—by her own brother, no less—Aaron was intrigued by his Jewish ancestors and their lives in Eastern Europe. His interest led him first to learning Yiddish, the language of his ancestors, then to saving a small collection of Yiddish books that were being thrown out, then to an incredible path of gathering Yiddish books from around the world. While initial estimates were that fewer than a hundred thousand Yiddish books remained in existence, Aaron’s efforts have resulted in preserving more than one and a half million books. Spurred by a belief that “[b]ooks are big enough and powerful enough to define and contain identity,” Aaron met with people who shared their life stories and entrusted him with their cherished books. As one woman told him, “We didn’t eat much, . . . but we always bought a book. It was a necessity of life.” The story is talently portrayed by Innerst with acrylics and gouache in an abstract realism concrete enough to narrate a biography while flexible enough to convey broad themes like history, culture, loss, and preservation.