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First Come the Zebra

First Come the Zebra

Written and illustrated by Lynne Barasch
Lee & Low, 2009
Ages 4-8

An annual migration of African animals provides foundation and metaphor for First Come the Zebra, a book that has rural Kenya as its setting. While in the animal world there is peace among the grazers, who share the land, the reality is quite different among the people, who inhabit it. Tension persists between the farmers, the Kikuyu, and the cattle growers, the Maasai, as farms encroach on cattle grazing lands.

When Abaani, a young Maasai, sees a Kikuyu boy tending a vegetable stall, he impulsively accuses him of "what he has heard others say," of destroying the land. After working together to rescue a baby who has wandered off from his mother into the territory of dangerous warthogs, the boys slowly make friends with each other and eventually initiate some trading, milk for vegetables, with the hope that their families, too, may one day become friends.

In Abaani and Haki, Barasch offers children inspiring role models for making peace with neighbors and protecting their environment in the process.

Read our review of the book.
Read our interview with Lynne Barasch.
See our Gallery feature of Lynne Barasch's work.
Read our Q&A with Jason Low, publisher at Lee & Low Books, publisher of First Come the Zebra.

Lynne Barasch's website:
Lee & Low's website:

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Little Leap ForwardLittle Leap Forward: A Boy in Beijing

Written by Guo Yue and Clare Farrow, ilustrated by Helen Cann
Barefoot Books, 2008
Ages 9-12

Little Leap Forward loves playing with his best friend Little-Little by the river, flying kites or looking for mulberry leaves for his silk worms. He wants to be a musician like his father, who died when he was five, and he practices his flute-playing every day.  One day Little-Little traps a song-bird for Little Leap, who puts it in a cage and waits in vain for it to sing. Meanwhile, in the background are the beginnings of China's Cultural Revolution. 

The references to the impending revolution in Yue and Farrow's book just make Little Leap's story––of growing up in Beijing, having fun with friends, losing a father, learning an instrument, discovering the real meaning of freedom––all the more poignant. This layered story can be enjoyed on several levels, and should leave young readers with much to ponder.

Little Leap Forward is based on musician Guo Yue's own childhood. The book includes photographs as well as further indication of the effects of the Cultural Revolution on his life.

Read our review of the book.
Read our interview with Guo Yue and Clare Farrow.
See our Gallery feature of Helen Cann's work.
Read our Q&A with Tessa Strickland, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Barefoot Books, publisher of Little Leap Forward.

Guo Yue's website:
Helen Cann's website:
Barefoot Books' website:

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My Little Round HouseMy Little Round House

Written and illustrated by Bolormaa Baasansuren
Groundwood Books / House of Anansi Press, 2009
Ages 4-8.

In Mongolian writer and artist Bolormaa Baasansuren's My Little Round House, a child recounts his first year of life in a nomadic Mongolian family. From his mother's womb to the round cradle he sleeps in, to the family's round yurt, or ger, to the very dome of the sky above, the little boy lives in a peaceful encircling world despite his family's seasonal moves. Four times during his first year, his parents disassemble their home, pack up their belongings, load them on their camels, and move to a new locale, their goats and sheep following along.

This beautiful picture book transmits a sense of wonder about the natural world and the changing seasons that every young child will be able to appreciate. In its pages, Mongolia comes alive as a fabulous, otherworldly and yet deeply familiar place: familiar because in My Little Round House family love translates clearly across cultures.

Read our review of the book.
Read our interview with Bolormaa Baasansuren.
Read Helen Mixter's Personal View about adapting the story to English.
See a Gallery feature of Bolormaa Baasansuren's work.
Read our Q&A with Patricia Aldana, founder and publisher of Groundwood Books, publisher of My Little Round House.

Groundwood Books' website:

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One HenOne Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference

Written by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes
Kids Can Press, 2008
Ages 7+

With the few coins left after his mother used their community fund money to buy a cart to carry more firewood to sell, Kojo buys one hen, which allows them to have two eggs to eat each week and three eggs to sell at the market.  Once Kojo has paid his mother back and made some more money from the egg sales, he buys another hen…

Kojo's poultry business grows and grows.  Eventually he can afford to return to school and ultimately earns an agriculture degree.  When Kojo gets a big loan from a bank, his chicken farm expands to provide employment and create industry in the village; and he starts lending money to others, so that they too can make their own ideas a reality.

The miracle of microfinance is fabulously illustrated in this gorgeous and captivating book. Kojo's story is followed by a mini-biography of its real-life inspiration, Kwabena Darko, a Ghanaian chicken farmer who started out like Kojo and eventually founded the Sinapi Aba (Mustard Seed) Trust to provide small loans for other small-business people.

The glorious and datailed illustrations by Eugenie Fernandes and the book's message of global citizenship broaden the book's appeal and interest. Children everywhere will be inspired by Kojo's can-do story and the positive way he uses his success to help others.

Read our review of the book.
Read our interview with Katie Smith Milway.
See our Gallery feature of Eugenie Fernandes' work.
Read our Q&A with Sheila Barry, editor-in-chief of Kids Can Press, publisher of One Hen.

One Hen website:
Kids Can Press' website:

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Planting the Trees of KenyaPlanting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai

Written and illustrated by Claire A. Nivola
Frances Foster Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009
Ages 5-8

Planting the Trees of Kenya tells the story of Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai and her campaign, as founder of the Green Belt movement, to save the landscape of Kenya. The book immediately engages its audience by introducing Wangari as a child, growing up in a fertile, prosperous land where farming rhythms are attuned to their environment. Pages later, readers take in the disastrous implications of an adult Wangari, shown standing in the same landscape bereft of trees.

Nivola recounts Wangari's story simply, and includes all that is necessary to inspire young children to become young activists for the future of their planet. An Author's Note brings her story up to the present, which helps readers to make the leap from it being an inspiring story to it being a true inspiring story.  Planting the Trees of Kenya is a beautiful book which will both prompt children to go out and plant trees themselves, and sow the seeds of conviction that with determination, any individual can make a difference.

Read our review of the book.
Read our interview with Claire A. Nivola.
See a Gallery feature of Claire A. Nivola's work.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux Books for Young Readers' website:

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Storytellers CandleThe Storyteller's Candle / La velita de los cuentos

Written by Lucia Gonzalez, illustrated by Lulu Delacre
Children's Book Press, 2008
Ages 4-8

The Storyteller's Candle / La velita de los cuentos is the story of how the work of Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian to work in the New York Public Library System, touched the lives of two Puerto Rican children and their immigrant community in New York City, during the early years of the Great Depression.

Cousins Hildamar and Santiago are not used to the harsh December weather of New York. They and their family gather round the dinner table, reminiscing about the tropical warmth of their native Puerto Rico.

When Pura Belpré comes to their school bringing puppets and stories to share in English and Spanish––as well as news of all the library has to offer––– the two children eagerly spread the news to their community, who used to  think they couldn't go inside the library because they didn't speak English.

Pura Belpré was the first to help establish the library as a welcoming place for immigrants to come together in their own language and culture. Her commitment to the idea that libraries are for everyone, regardless of one's language, forever changed the way libraries across the United States interact with the families in their neighborhoods.

This is a special book about a very special person; and just like Pura Belpré herself, it will open up a new world for many children.

Read our review of the book.
Read our interview with Lucia Gonzalez.
See our Gallery feature of Lulu Delacre's work.
Read our Q&A with Dana Goldberg, Executive Director of Children's Book Press, publisher of The Storyteller's Candle.

Lucia Gonzalez's website:
Lulu Delacre's website:
Children's Book Press' website:

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Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Written and illustrated by Grace Lin
Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009
Ages 9-12

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
, Grace Lin's Asian-inspired fantasy, brings the magic of Chinese fairytales to life for children, while introducing them to a strong, smart, and loyal heroine.

Inspired by a talking fish to believe that she can reverse her and her family's poor fortune, Minli leaves her home at Fruitless Mountain to embark on an adventurous journey, where she ends up facing fears, making friends and learning the true meaning of good fortune. While away, Minli thinks of her parents worrying for her at home in their impoverished surroundings, and hopes that she will be able to return having changed the family's fortune for the better. In turn, while longing for their beloved daughter's safe return, her parents embark on a journey of their own to rediscover the value in all that they do have.

This book of one large story and many small ones, filled with engaging illustrations and nine full color plates (so rare in middle-reader books), is sure to be devoured by its intended audience as well as enjoyed by younger children, along with their parents, when read aloud.

Read our review of the book.
Read our interview with Grace Lin.
See our Gallery features (1 and 2) of Grace Lin's work.

Grace Lin's website:
Little, Brown & Co.'s website:

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