The desert is my mother/ el desierto es mi madre

Like the Pumphrey brothers’ magical THE OLD TRUCK, there’s a wonderfully enigmatic quality to Pat Mora and Daniel Lechon‘s classic picture book, THE DESERT IS MY MOTHER.

With its rhythmic structure and poetic imagery, THE DESERT IS MY MOTHER also has a prescient environmentalist framework, bringing the desert to life by showing all the ways the places where we live shape and nurture us. Plus, the bilingual text centers the experience of Spanish-speaking readers while helping children imagine and reimagine the places of their everyday experience. “I say,” offers the narrator, and the desert gives:

I say teach me.
She blooms in the sun’s glare,
the snow’s silence,
the driest sand.

Le digo, ensename.
Y florence en el brillo del sol,
en el silencio de la nieve,
en las arenas mas secas.

Mora’s desert places teem with life, and all the ways the earth will survive us. Mother’s love is unconditional. It’s never too late to return it.

Little Brown

Marla Frazee’s LITTLE BROWN reminds me of when I used to teach college composition, attempting to engage students in big questions around issues that are almost impossible to track back to any satisfyingly clear origin. You can imagine my RateMyProfessor ratings.

When the “facts” of any emotional situation are buried, entangled, or complex, it’s all about being able to hold or imagine multiple perspectives, yeah?

In LITTLE BROWN, Marla Frazee deftly shows kiddos the vulnerability each aggrieved side brings to a point of potential reconciliation, and why the moment that ends a stalemate can be approached 1,000s of times before someone works up the courage to make it happen.

Little Brown wants to join the other dogs and nurse grievances. The other dogs can rely on group dynamics to avoid navigating a situation that might cause them to examine their behavior even when Little Brown makes it harder and harder for them to ignore him.

I think a lot about the competing pressures for and against “lessons” in picture books. Here, Frazee gives ample opportunity to consider things from all angles, with little readers drawing their own conclusions. Sometimes resolution’s for the birds.

FRANK THE SEVEN LEGGED SPIDER

Michaele Razi’s FRANK THE SEVEN LEGGED SPIDER is brilliant. Yes, it’s funny, it’s clever and a little gross, (which, you know, kids) but what I love most about it is the way it raises and never answers a big ole “WHY?”

cover image of Michaele Razi's Frank the Seven Legged Spider

If you don’t know this book, please don’t try to glean its secrets from a YouTube read aloud. It’s gotta be read in person. So, get thyself to your library or bookstore poste-haste.

Now, I don’t want to give away the secret (though it’s killing me not to!). But I do want to talk about that “why?”. Let’s just say something happens to Frank. Something bad and unexpected, and which we the readers can learn the origins of, although Frank never does.

So, quit talking in circles you might be thinking. What’s the big deal? And it’s just this: Razi’s book acknowledges that sometimes bad things happen and sometimes the source of that hurt is surprising. But more than that, we may never get a why – we’re not always owed one and even if we are, tough cookies, baby! Lots of times, it just never comes.

My kiddo spotted the secret on the first read. And it was delightful. Sometimes in life we’re Franks, sometimes we’re what’s on the other side of Frank’s missing leg. Accident? Maliciousness? Circumstantial evidence? No matter – Frank lets it go – the leg, that is – and finds his own mischievous way forward.

I love books like this, so please drop any of your related favorites in the comments. Or tell me what you think about Razi’s book.