When I recommend books to faculty, I have started to use the term “authentic voice” instead of “own voice,” and have become much more diligent about researching what authors say about their works so I can speak as accurately as possible. These are some of my favorite recent picture books that have authenticity at their core.
The Day You Begin, written by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael López (2018).
“There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.” Woodson builds on a line from a poem in Brown Girl Dreaming to show a variety of children working toward celebrating their identities. Winner of the 2019 Jane Addams Children’s Book Award.
Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away, written by Meg Medina, illustrated by Sonia Sánchez (2020).
Here, the universal emotion of losing your best friend is explored. Today is the day that narrator Daniela has been dreading: the last day with her mejor amiga. Sánchez’ digital illustrations bring the girls’ urban neighborhood to life and center the strong emotions at the story’s center.
Gibberish, written and illustrated by Young Vo (2022).
Dat is new to the United States. On his first day of school, English words are confusing but a compassionate classmate provides the support he needs. With humorous and sensitive mixed media illustrations, Vo visually portrays Dat’s English-speaking classmates as goofy monsters, and his confusion with the new language through the inventive use of text icons.
Home is in Between, written by Mitali Perkins, illustrated by Lavanya Naidu (2021).
After emigrating to America, Shanti navigates memories of her beloved Bengali village and the strain of understanding the new cultural norms of American life. Perkins writes and speaks extensively about living “between cultures” and code-switching as a superpower.
I Am Me: A Book of Authenticity, written by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter Reynolds (2022).
“When I show who I truly am, I can find my joy!” Verde’s text is an affirmation of the uniqueness of every person, while Reynolds’ trademark gouache and ink illustrations feature a gender-neutral child on a journey of acceptance and celebration.
John’s Turn, written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Kate Berube (2022).
John’s classmates know that he is nervous about performing at the assembly, but he ignores their snickers and lets his passion for ballet shine through. Berube skillfully creates a time lapse-like representation of John’s performance, showing the boy’s artistic joy.
Look Up!, written and illustrated by Jung Jin-Ho, translated by Mi Hyun Kim (2016).
In this largely wordless picture book, a girl calls out to passers-by below, and eventually a boy does as she asks, prompting others to do the same. The author has drawn on his childhood experience of being hospitalized in writing and illustrating this story. Give this to teachers who want books on perspective-taking.
Niko Draws a Feeling, written by Bob Raczka, illustrated by Simone Shin (2017).
Niko is happiest when he is drawing, but sometimes people around him are critical when they look at his art, which makes him sad. Author Raczka hopes that this book can be a mirror for creative children who are often misunderstood.
One Wish: Fatima al-Fihri and the World’s Oldest University, written by M.O. Yuksel, illustrated by Mariam Quraishi (2022).
Yuksel’s lyrical text and Quraishi’s stunning gouache illustrations bring to life the story of Fatima al-Fihri, who built the Moroccan school al-Qarawiyyin in 859 CE, which is still in operation today.
Real Sisters Pretend by Megan Dowd Lambert, illustrated by Nicole Tadgell (2016).
During an imaginative game of pretend, Mia suggests to her older sister Tayja that they “pretend to be sisters.” Tayja gently shows her how their bond as adopted sisters is real. Expansive watercolor illustrations in warm tones underscore the love between the two siblings. The author explains that the story was inspired by a loving conversation about adoption between two of her daughters after a stranger questioned whether they were “real sisters”.
Saffron Ice Cream, written and illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh (2018).
As Rashin’s family takes the subway to Coney Island, she wonders how the experience will compare to their beach outings in Iran. The author incorporates her childhood experiences vividly through text and illustration.
When We Were Alone by David Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett (2016).
While spending the day with her grandmother, a young girl hears about the experience of Canadian boarding schools and how they stripped parts of Native identity away. Winner of the Canadian 2017 Governor General's Literary Award and the McNally Robinson Best Book for Young People Award. A member of the Norway House Cree Nation, Robertson has created a helpful pronunciation video for the Cree words in the story, and Flett, the illustrator, is Cree-Métis.