If you’re not a fan of Utah winters, the shortest month of the year can start to feel really loooooong.
Fortunately there are plenty of reasons to celebrate in February — Valentine’s Day, Presidents Day and Lunar New Year. February is also Black History Month. So pull up a chair and embrace the season by reading a new picture book with the child of your choice. (BONUS! If you want something else to look forward to this month, take special note of the final title listed here.)
“Voices from the Underground Railroad” by Kay Winters, illustrated by Larry Day
“Tonight’s the night. My sister Mattie passed me the word. The auctioneer’s comin’. We gotta go.” Told in multiple first-person voices, this arresting picture book tells the story of Mattie and Jeb, a young brother and sister who escape slavery by following the Underground Railroad from Maryland to Massachusetts. The unique real-time point of view allows readers to experience the dangerous journey for themselves. Additional information about the Underground Railroad is included in the book’s appendix.
“The United States v. Jackie Robinson” by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Say the name Jackie Robinson and most people think of the phenomenal athlete who crossed professional baseball’s color barrier with dignity and grace. But this new picture book focuses on Robinson’s experiences as a soldier during World War II when he was court-martialed because (even before Rosa Parks) he refused to sit at the back of the bus. Another fascinating look at the life of one our country’s true heroes.
“Valensteines” by Ethan Long
If you loved “Creepy Carrots!” (you should have) and “Creepy Pair of Underwear!” (same) then you’ll be thrilled to learn that Ethan Long has written and illustrated a Valentine’s Day story. When Fran’s friends — a mummy, a ghost, a witch and the rest of the usual suspects — catch him making a valentine, they’re appalled. Love is mushy! Love is gross! Love is EWWW! Will Fran be shamed into giving up on his secret project? Long’s trademark humor will appeal to children and their grown-ups.
“The Wolf Who Wanted to Fall in Love” by Orianne Lallemand, illustrated by Eleonore Thuillier
Oo la la! Leave it to the French (the writer and illustrator reside in France) to create a story about a lonely wolf who wants a girlfriend. Wolf is “sort of cute and actually quite nice,” but he has no idea how to find someone to love. Good thing he has friends who are happy to give him advice. OR IS IT? Wolf, who stars in a series of popular picture books, has become one of France’s most beloved characters.
“This is Not a Valentine” by Carter Higgins, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins
The young male narrator of this charming new picture book works hard to convince a classmate that he ISN’T giving her a valentine. You know. Because Valentines come with stuff like roses and tulips that “smell like grannies” and no way is he going to give a girl something like that. Especially when he has a better idea. …
“Click, Clack, Moo, I Love You!” by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin
This series has been money for good reason: Farmer Brown and his animal family never fail to charm. In this story Little Duck works overtime to prepare for a special barnyard Valentine’s Day dance. Everything is perfect … until a certain uninvited guest shows up. Will he spoil all the reindeer games?
“The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes” by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrated by David Roberts
“Traditionally, people dress in new clothes on New Year’s Day so evil spirits won’t recognize them.” It’s this custom that allows the compassionate boy emperor, Ming Da, to expose his corrupt ministers and thereby help his downtrodden subjects. With the help of two clever tailors, Ming Da tricks his ministers into wearing robes made of rice sacks in the New Year’s Day parade. Upon realizing they’ve been publicly humiliated, the ministers flee the country for good. This original riff on Hans Christian Andersen’s famous story is enhanced by David (“Rosie Revere, Engineer”) Roberts’ appealing illustrations.
“Ruby’s Chinese New Year” by Vickie Lee, illustrated by Joey Chou
Ruby’s grandmother has always celebrated Chinese New Year with Ruby and her family. But when Grandmother can’t make the trip, Ruby decides to take the party to Grandmother’s house with the help of all the animals in the Chinese zodiac—dog, horse, monkey and the rest of the gang. This book is an amiable introduction to the customs associated with the Chinese New Year celebration.
“One Proud Penny” by Randy Siegel, illustrated by Serge Bloch
So, technically this book isn’t about a president. But it is about that grand old American icon, the 1-cent piece that features the profile of a president along with the words “Liberty” and “In God We Trust.” “One Proud Penny” follows the adventures of a single penny born in 1983 in Philadelphia (home of the Liberty Bell and Patti LaBelle, cream cheese and cheesesteaks, as well as the United States Mint) as it travels from pocket to pocket across the USA. I can guarantee that after reading this informative and clever book, you’ll never look at a stray penny in the same way again.
“Her Right Foot” by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Shawn Harris
Fine. This one isn’t about a president either. But it’s a wonderful history of the Statue of Liberty and how she was given to Americans as a gift from the French. (“If you have heard of France, you may have heard of the French. They are the people who live in France.”) Along the way, readers learn all kinds of interesting things about our maiden in the harbor — how the seven spikes on her crown represent the seven seas and the seven continents, for instance. But ultimately the book focuses on the statue’s right foot, which is in motion. Where is she going? the author asks. And why? Eggers’ text, perfectly paired with Harris’ illustrations, manages to be at once droll and inspiring. This is a truly wonderful book.
“I Am a Warrior Goddess” by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Carme Lemnimscates
Utah’s own best-selling author Jennifer Adams has a new title being released the first week in February. With 13,500 copies already sold, pre-publication interest in this book, which encourages young girls to discover their power within, has been enormous. Adams says the book was inspired by “Warrior Goddess Training” by HeatherAsh Amara. “I wanted to write a book that celebrated the innate power of girls,” she says. “I want to show that we can make a big difference in the world with small actions. And I want children to understand that despite what they often see in the world, truly owning your own power means not using power against others, but the exact opposite. It means using your influence to be fiercely generous, kind and loving.”