Picturebooks that Celebrate!

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH


This week needs a celebration, and these three books answer the call! We have Hands Up! (2019) by Breanna J. McDaniel and Shane W. Evans, The Tale of Rabbit and Coyote (1998) by Tony Johnston and Tomie de Paola, and Birrarung Wilam: A Story from Aboriginal Australia (2020) by Aunty Joy Murphy, Andrea Kelly, and Lisa Kennedy. These books celebrate three cultures that have historically been underrepresented in literature for young people, and all make great read alouds for younger children as well as mentor texts for older readers.

Hands Up! is a terrific picturebook for young children that celebrates Black love and the everyday connections between children and the adults who love them. McDaniel’s debut picturebook is a perfect read aloud with the repeated phrase of “hands up!” that invites young children to join the refrain as they are reminded of how often their own requests at home, school, and church include the action of raising their hands. Of course, this is also a timely book given current social circumstances and the Black Lives Matter movement, and creates a space for agency as well as the multiple ways of interpreting “hands up.” Indeed a book for celebrating the small action of raising hands as a way of being seen and heard. Bright illustrations emphasize the celebratory mood of the book.

Cover art for The Tale of Rabbit and Coyote depicts rabbit riding on coyote's back illustrated in a Oaxacan-style.
The Tale of Rabbit and Coyote is an interweaving of Oaxacan tales from Mexico with Johnston’s homage to Uncle Remus and the Brer Rabbit stories, creating a text that celebrates both heritages. While we often think of coyotes being the tricksters, it is the rabbit in these tales that always gets the best of the coyote. And because of this, we have a “rabbit in the moon” that keeps coyote gazing toward the moon and howling. Another great read aloud, young children will love the humorous tales of rabbit and coyote, while older readers will have the opportunity to use them to gain a greater sense of the origins of Mexican and African American folktales and the underlying meanings behind them. The illustrations are true Tomie de Paolo stylings that invite and delight.

Birrarung Wilam cover art depicts a lush scene of plants and animals in a waterway.
Birrarung Wilam: A Story from Aboriginal Australia celebrates the flora and fauna of the Yarra River that empties into the Melbourne bay in Melbourne, Australia and the Wurundjeri people who call the river “home”. Using a mixture of English and Aboriginal Australian, this beautiful picturebook also celebrates the plant and animal life along the river and those who live within its influence. The incredible illustrations are detailed and inviting. Readers will love the rich language and the lyrical cadence wrought within the text. The glossary will give greater insight into the words and the beauty of the Yarra River home. This book is a wonderful way to introduce young readers to Australia, the Aboriginal culture, and the country’s diversity of both plant and animal.

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