written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully
Sense Pass King: A Story from Cameroon
retold by Katrin Tchana and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
Trina Schart Hyman is one of my all-time favorite children's book illustrators (along with Leo and Diane Dillon). The art for this book was one of her last published works, so it makes me sad that people are sometimes put off by Sense Pass King's expression on the cover. Contrary to how some people interpret the cover art, this is not a book about an angry girl, but a determined one. Before Sense Pass King earned her nickname, she was given the name Ma'antah. It was apparent to her parents from a young age that she was a special child--being able to speak the languages of seven villages by two and being able to prepare dinner by three. As time went by, Ma'antah's intelligence grew until the people started calling her Sense Pass King. Obviously, this did not go over so well with said king. After he tries to get rid of her several times and she subverts him, the king decides to keep Sense Pass King near him so he can keep an eye on her. Sense Pass King uses her wits to keep herself and others safe and eventually loses her name, but gains a new title.
Flossie and the Fox
written by Patricia McKissack and illustrated by Rachel Isadora
In this revision of the classic tale "Little Red Riding Hood" a little girl named Flossie Finley is sent to deliver a basket of eggs to a neighbor. Deciding to take the cooler route through the woods, Flossie soon comes upon a fox. But the fox's slyness is no match for clever Flossie as she turns the tables on him, tricking him into leaving her alone and ensuring her basket of eggs is kept safe. Flossie's cleverness and refusal to be frightened is incredibly satisfying as are Isadora's perfectly paired illustrations.
Thank You, Mr. Falker
written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco
In this autobiographical account of Polacco's childhood, she shares the difficult path that lead her to learn to read. A very clever child, Trisha is excited to learn to read in kindergarten and devastated when by first grade all the other students can read and she cannot. Learning to keep her struggle a secret, Trisha tricks her teachers into thinking she can read for years and is teased and tormented mercilessly by her fellow students, until she meets Mr. Falker. Astute enough to see through her ruse, Mr. Falker understands that here is a student who is smart but needs to be taught in a way she can understand. With admirable bravery, Trisha slowly begins to learn how to read. The first day she can actually read on her own is captured with such depth and heart that it has struck a chord with readers for years, making this an all-time favorite of mine, and a celebration of bravery, perseverance, and the value of learning.
Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp
written and illustrated by Mercer Mayer
Another revision of the "Little Red Riding Hood" tale with a refreshingly clever protagonist. When Liza Lou's mother sends her on various errands over the course of several days, she warns her daughter to be careful of the "Yeller Belly Swamp." Liza Lou does indeed encounter a number of scary creatures in the swamp and not only keeps herself safe, but tricks them into doing her work for her. For those unfamiliar with Mercer Mayer, you may recognize his art from the Little Critter books (he has also illustrated a number of fairy tales which are excellent and worth checking out). His illustrations here are simultaneously beautiful and hilarious, as are the rhymes ("One, two, three, four/Five on the double/If you mess around with me/It's a mess of trouble") sprinkled throughout the story.