Kids’ Books Wrap-Up

By Sarah James
September 28th, 2023

With summer waning, now is a fine time to prepare the children for the dark, cold, indoor season to come. Sound sad? Wonderfully, there are plenty of great recent kids’ reads from Minnesota publishers and authors to keep the little ones warm at heart! Here are a few…

(Jump to a story on this page using the links below)

Who Will Catch a Milkweed? | The Stellar Adventures of Hector and Paz- The Fly Frenzy | Josie Dances | Mashkiki Road | Sam and the Incredible African and American Food Fight | Yang Warriors

Who Will Catch a Milkweed, by Jorja Stark

Who Will Catch a Milkweed? | Holy Cow Publications

Written by Jorja Stark

This lively and light-hearted picture book follows the free-flowing journey of a milkweed seed, visiting animal to animal, inviting children to wonder just who will catch it. Beautifully presented, it is immediately eye catching with bright pictures and a large print. There is a comforting tactility to the book, lots to point to, count and discuss. This book will surely spark conversations around familiar and unfamiliar animals—encouraging a new found interest in otters, deer, horses, bunnies, cats, dogs, and geese. A short read, designed best to be read aloud and practice basic sentence construction, this is one for our early readers to take a walk with, suitable for ages 1 – 6, preschool, and elementary children.

This environmentally conscious story will surely foster imagination for children and assist them in identifying different animals in their habitats. It will inspire and encourage a lasting interest in nature, compassion, conservation, and environmentalism. After reading this book together, you will be able to notice and comment on the many milkweeds you encounter on your own travels, maybe even catching one for yourselves!

The Stellar Adventures of Hector and Paz- The Fly Frenzy, by Jinja Notargiacomo & Eva Fresa

The Stellar Adventures of Hector and Paz- The Fly Frenzy | Holy Cow Publications

Written by Jinja Notargiacomo & Eva Fresa, Illustrated by Yurii Sosnytskyi

The Fly Frenzy is the first of the Stellar Series of humorous stories based on a household of quirky animal companions coexisting alongside their human homeowners. It’s a great chapter book with a fun bunch of characters. Best suited for ages 8-12, yet anyone who appreciates a shared experience will engage with this light-hearted tale. The artwork feels both charming and classical. A standout to the wonderful book is out illustrator, Yurii Sosnytskyi, a young man living in Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine, admirably he is doing all he can to work despite the devastations of the ongoing war. I cannot praise his beautiful work enough, and encourage support for his craft in any way possible.

Already popular in classrooms, our well written witty retro comedy stars a duo not unfamiliar in the literary world: a blunt Norwegian forest cat Hector, who just sees the world as is, and his laid-back best friend Paz, who has an inspiring mantra for children and adults alike (peace, love and kindness). Although seeming most apt in a classroom setting for projects surrounding book reports on main characters, book settings and problem solving, this book is wonderful for leisurely bonding evenings for the family. Many reviews online from grandparents comment on how they have enjoyed reading this book with their grandkids, and how both generations had enjoyed the characters and story twists and turns.

Josie Dances, by Denise Lanjimodiere

Josie Dances | Minnesota Historical Society Press

Written by Denise Lanjimodiere, Illustrated by Dr. Angela Erdrich

Josie Dances is a coming-of-age tale suitable for ages 3-7, which highlights the rich cultural pride of one young Ojibwe girl’s family traditions coming together in unity. Josie practices her steps as everyone does their part for her first powwow, something she couldn’t be more excited about. Josie has asked her mother to sew her dress and shawl, her aunt to bead her cape, her grandmother to bead her moccasins, and tribal elder Grandma Great Walker to dream her spirit name.

Inspired by memories of preparing her daughter for powwows, Lajimodiere writes a well-paced, rich, and dialogue heavy tale that seamlessly interweaves and contextualizes the Ojibwe language. The visualizations of fine line water color art have a beautiful hand-drawn feel. Illustrator Erdrich offers detailed close-ups of beadwork, animals, frybread, clothing, and nature. There is such a sense of family and community woven into this story through both the language and artwork; the two working so harmoniously together. This would be a marvelous introduction and conversation starter to a culture that children may be unfamiliar with and spark an interest in. Fitted with a colorful Ojibwe glossary, this book is sure to foster a growing vocabulary for the little ones.

Denise Lajimodiere is a retired Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at North Dakota State University and a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.

Dr. Angela Erdrich has worked as a pediatrician in Native American communities since 1997. Currently making her home in Minneapolis, ‘Josie Dances’ is her first illustrated book.

Maskiki Road, by Elizabeth S. Barrett

Mashkiki Road | Minnesota Historical Society Press

Written by Elizabeth S. Barrett, Illustrated by Jonathon Thunder

Mashkiki Road is a picture book best suited for ages 3-7. It follows the spunky journey of three young cousins—Lily, Ogimaa, and Ellie—who explore the woods in search of medicines to heal and purify grandma Mindy, who has entrusted them to set out on Mashkiki Road alone. But they’re not alone on their travels for long. Soon, they encounter wise animal beings who offer life lessons loved and cherished through generations, named The Seven Grand Father Teachings. Along this path, they converse with a number of animal deities, Makwa (Bear), who tells them to always have the courage to do what is right, then Sa’be (Bigfoot) a symbol of honesty, Mashkode-Bizhiikii (Buffalo) who teaches respect, among many more wise and insightful beings. The cousins’ Grandma has taught them well, and upon reaching the sage plants, they gather only what is needed and give an offering of tobacco as thanks to the forest. Children will enjoy the bright visuals and conversations with animal beings included in this delightful short read. Rich with native teachings, it will inspire an interest in herbal botany, care and respect for the natural world, and building key life skills such as honesty, compassion and strength. It may even inspire a walk through the forest to do some summer foraging!

Jonathon Thunder is an award winning painter and digital media artist living in Duluth, Minnesota. He is the illustrator of Bowwow Powwow and several Ojibwe language books produced by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

Sam and the Incredible African and American Food Fight, by Shannon Gibney

Sam and the Incredible African and American Food Fight | University of Minnesota Press

Written by Shannon Gibney, Illustrated by Charly Palmer

Sam is sitting at his family’s cultural crossroads. Hungry as he is, his stomach can only fit so much, and no matter what he eats, someone will be disappointed. Auntie and Dad are from Liberia and have made rice and okra soup. Mom, who is from Minnesota, has made spaghetti and meatballs. Neither side is willing to try the other, even though Sam and his sister know how delicious both dishes are. Can they convince either parent to change their ways? With charming, chalk-like illustrations that are some of the most unique I’ve seen all summer, this short and snappy picture book is nothing short of a visual feast as well. Most suitable for kids aged 5-9, this funny and uplifting book carries an important message through a sense of childlike simplicity and hope.

The fun food references are sure to keep your kids’ attention and get their tummies’ going. Having them curious about foods from other parts of the world, it would certainly be a conversation starter! Complete with two recipes they will be excited to try at the end of the book, the whole experience feels so hands on. It has such an emphasis on cultural experiences and sharing cultures as intended. It invites the whole family to get involved, and on a deeper level, Sam reparenting his parents and having them change their ways is a nice twist that doesn’t go unappreciated by more mature readers.

Shannon Gibney is a writer, educator, activist and author of ‘See no Color’ and ‘Dream Country’, young adult novels that won Minnesota Book Awards.

Charly Palmer is a fine artist, illustrator, teacher, and mentor. His book illustrations include ‘There’s a Dragon in My Closet’, ‘Rainy Day Rocketship’ and ‘I Can Write The World.’

Yang Warriors, by Kao Kalia Yang

Yang Warriors | University of Minnesota Press

Written by Kao Kalia Yang, Illustrated by Billy Thao

The Yang Warriors prepare for battle. They practice drills, balance rocks upon their heads, and wield swords under the guide of their fearless leader, ten-year-old Master Me (whose name means “little”). However, their swords are fallen branches, and the battle that they prepare for is searching for vegetables as they run low on food each day. The ten brave cousins know all too well the repercussions of being caught by the guards from leaving the camp in the search for food, but after seeing their parents thinning faces and withering crops, it is a risk they are willing to take. Emotionally charged and vivid at times, this book shows children the true meaning of poverty, fostering feelings of gratitude for what they have in their own lives, compassion for those around them, and the strength to stand up for what is right.

Written with true childlike innocence from the horrors and hardships of Ban Vinai refugee camp, where the author lived as a child, Yang’s older sister, seven-year-old, Dawb, is one of the story’s warriors. Not necessarily warriors in strength or agility, but of warriors of the heart. The children are resourceful, determined and courageous, bringing a message that is inspiring for children and adults alike. Most suitable for ages 5-10 years, this may be a tough and heartfelt read for some. It is, in essence, a tale of bravery to help young ones live fearlessly. There is a prevailing sense of hope even during a seemingly hopeless time.

Kao Kalia Yang is author of ‘The Latehomecomer’: A Hmong Family Memoir, winner of Minnesota Book Awards in both Creative Nonfiction/Memoir and Reader’s Choice, and a finalist for the PEN USA Award in Creative Nonfiction as well as the Asian Literary Award In Nonfiction.

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