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Books

Picture books with a message

Of course kids want a good story and engaging pictures. But there's nothing wrong with a lesson, too. These 10 picture books — most with a Minnesota connection — celebrate nature, applaud diversity and protest racism, especially the murder of George Floyd.

Most of these books include endnotes with reading guides, information and advice on how children can get involved.

Sarah Rising

By Ty Chapman, illustrated by DeAnn Wiley. (Beaming Books, $18.99, ages 5-8)

Every morning, Sarah feeds her bugs and tends her ant farm before heading to school. But one morning, her father stops her. "We're going to a protest," he tells her. A crowd has gathered at the police station; the police, Sarah's father explains, have killed another Black man. As the crowd shouts for justice, Sarah dives to save an injured butterfly and is separated from her father. Twin Cities writer and puppeteer Ty Chapman threads the needle beautifully in this book, which shows the father's calm and the crowd's intensity — and little Sarah's compassion.

Today Is Different

By Doua Moua, illustrated by Kim Holt. (Carolrhoda Books, $17.99, ages 5-9)

Every day, Mai and her friend Kiera go to school together, eat lunch together, come home on the bus together. But not today — this day Kiera is missing. She's protesting with her family after the murder of George Floyd, and Mai decides to protest, too. Doua Moua — who was born in a Thai refugee camp, grew up in St. Paul and is now an actor in Los Angeles — has told a deceptively simple and inspiring story of family togetherness and community support. Kim Holt's digital paint illustrations have wonderful, authentic details — from the little bottles of glue in the schoolroom to the bamboo rice steamer in Mai's kitchen to the diverse multitude of people marching up the street.

We Belong

By Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Carlos Velez Aguilera. (Carolrhoda Books, $17.99, ages 4-8)

Minnesota writer Laura Purdie Salas has written an anthem to multiculturalism and inclusiveness in rhymes as catchy as those of Dr. Seuss. "There are boys. There are girls. And even more choices," she writes. "Let's build a world where there's room for all voices." The exuberant colored pencil and digital media illustrations by Carlos Velez Aguilera — of kids of all races, genders and abilities — explode with energy.

Love in the Library

By Maggie Tokuda-Hall, illustrated by Yas Imamura. (Candlewick Press, $18.99, ages 6-9)

Based on the author's grandparents, "Love in the Library" takes place during World War II at a Japanese internment camp in the American West. The camp is cold in winter, hot in summer and muddy most of the time. Tama tries not to look at the armed guards as she walks each morning to the library where she works. George, an ever-smiling young man, stops by daily to check out books and eventually it becomes clear — he's not there for the books, he's there for her. Yas Imamura's gouache and watercolor illustrations show the bleakness of the camp as well as the beauty and love of the people inside it.

Frogness

By Sarah Nelson, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes. (Owlkids Books, $17.95, ages 3-7)

Drawn by the noisy YEEP YEEP YEEP of the spring peepers, Sammy and his dog slip into the woods to see if they can catch one. They search under bushes, through reeds and in a pond, eventually growing muddy and tired. They lie down and "fade off into frogness." And then the pond erupts with frogs! Minnesota writer Sarah Nelson tells a cheerful story about the lure of the wild. Eugenie Fernandes' ebullient illustrations are, like the child and dog, bright, messy and happy.

Celia Planted a Garden

By Phyllis Root and Gary D. Schmidt, illustrated by Melissa Sweet. (Candlewick, $18.99, ages 5-9)

Celia Laighton Thaxter grew up on an island off the coast of Maine. The storms were so brutal that one year their henhouse washed away and they had to bring the cow into the house to keep it from suffering the same fate. Still, Celia loved it there, and each summer she tended a glorious flower garden. As a young woman she moved to the mainland but never abandoned her island home; she became a poet and an artist, depicting the flowers, lighthouse and sea.

Twin Cities writer Phyllis Root, author of more than 50 books for children, has teamed up with Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt in this inspiring biography of Celia. Melissa Sweet's watercolor, gouache and mixed-media collage illustrations depict the bountiful gardens, tender blossoms and raging sea to perfection.

Mouse's Wood: A Year in Nature

By Alice Melvin, text by William Snow. (Thames & Hudson, $19.95, ages 5 and up)

On his forest strolls over the course of a year, Mouse passes snowdrops and forsythia, daffodils and bluebells, ripe apples and falling leaves. His neighbors hang out laundry in the blustery winds of March, share a picnic in the grass in May, go boating in July (in a sweet homage to Kenneth Graham's Ratty and Mole). Alice Melvin's lush mixed-media illustrations are an absolute show-stopper. Die-cut holes give you peeks at other pages, and folded flaps allow readers to peer into the charming woodland homes.

The ABC Bunny

By Wanda Gág. (University of Minnesota Press, $9.95, ages 2-5)

The classic 1933 alphabet book by Minnesota's Wanda Gág has been reissued as a board book for tiny hands. The bunny is awakened by crashing thunder and dashes from his warm bed into the out of doors, where he has any number of adventures (well, 26 of them) before finding his way home to Bunnytown.

A Warbler's Journey

By Scott Weidensaul, illustrated by Nancy Lane. (Gryphon Press, $17.99, ages 3 and up)

Every year, the tiny yellow warbler journeys from its winter home in Central America to its breeding grounds in Canada. Scott Weidensaul — a Pulitzer finalist for "Living on the Wind," his book on bird migration — has had no trouble simplifying his knowledge for children. "A Warbler's Journey," published by Minneapolis' Gryphon Press, follows the bird as it crosses the Gulf of Mexico and heads ever north. "The strength of her ancestors was in her wings," he writes. Nancy Lane's paintings are gorgeous, of sunsets and farm fields and deep boreal forests — and the people who live there.

Lily Leads the Way

By Margi Preus, illustrated by Matt Myers. (Candlewick Press, $17.99, ages 4-8)

In Margi Preus' cheerful "Lily Leads the Way," a sailboat jockeys for position in the wake of salties and thousand-footers, getting no respect until old-fashioned sloops and schooners arrive for Duluth's annual tall ships festival. They have no horns for signaling the Aerial Bridge, which must rise before they can sail into the harbor. Nobody notices their dilemma — except little Lily. This is a satisfying story about how even the smallest among us have something to offer. Matt Myers' buoyant oil illustrations of the deep blue waves of Lake Superior and rugged green hills of Duluth make us feel like we're right there.

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©2022 StarTribune. Visit at startribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

This story was originally published May 18, 2022 4:00 AM.

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