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.

Not quite snow white

There are so many things I love about Ashley Franklin and Ebony Glenn‘s NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE: Body positivity, parents who nimbly reframe whispered putdowns into affirmations, and a story that pushes back against race and dominate beauty standards undermining how kiddos see themselves and, consequently, the roles they set out to snag.

When the normally-irrepressible Tameika hears other kids whispering about her height, race, and weight as she tries out for the role of Snow White in the school play, she’s deflated by uncertainty.

I appreciated that Franklin didn’t construct this story in such a way that Tameika “solves” the other kids’ bullying on her own. Picture books should take on big things, but the bigger, more entrenched the issues, the more we need loving adults to play a part in our texts.

And rather than deny Tameika’s differences, the parents help Tameika answer perceived lack with irrefutable bounty. With her confidence restored, Tameika shines in her audition. Now that deserves a standing O.

All kids should see themselves represented in picture books, and all kids should see children who don’t look like them star in stories that help us navigate our differences.

While not particularly interested in performance or theater arts, my own kiddo is really drawn to this story, and I think it’s because he’s at an age where he has a naturally strong sense of justice, and this book gets at such a universal desire: to be seen and loved, as and for who we are.

The Night gardener

It never happens. But it could.

That mysterious, inexplicable encounter that cleaves the mundane and exposes something irrefutable and altering.

What’s even more magical is that the possibility, like a placebo, has its own generative effect.

You bet I’m talking about the action in the Fan BrothersTHE NIGHT GARDENER, which reminds me so much of Gabriel García Márquez‘s “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World.” (One of my all-time favorite short stories, along with “Yours,” by Mary Robison and anything by Lucia Berlin. Treat yourself to a cuppa and a quiet hour.)

William, the ostensible MC, like so many heroes and heroines, is parentless, living in a drab orphanage. Until the mysterious, itinerant Night Gardener arrives. Using form, or art, he shares a profound kindness and act of love, helping William and his fellow townspeople shake off their stupor, to begin living again, or for the first time.

Art, in the Fan Brothers’ story, is taken in through the eye but also passed down through the hands, and draws us out of one way of being and into another.

Art is folky, democratic. Put talent aside–the truth is that like Andy Warhol’s Coke, art belongs to everyone and anyone can do it. It can fill a lack. It can’t be our mother, but the magic is it can mother us.

Bob, not bob!

Y’all. J’adore.

Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick must have had themselves in stiches writing this one, it’s so dang joyful and clever. And Matthew Cordell channels his inner Roald Dahl for delightful, exuberant, absurdist art, the perfect foil for a book about being so sick, no one, not even your beloved mom, can understand a thing you’re saying.

When poor Little Louie’s cold is so bad that his stuffed-up pronunciations has his dog Bob coming running when he calls for his mom, you know it’s gonna be a rough few days. For everyone.

But who saves the day? Louie’s intrepid mom, who wisely gives in to babying her baby (and the delightfully giant, drooly, and snuggly Bob), and the look of pure love on Louie’s face…

I can’t remember if I read or heard an editor say in passing (Karen Boss??) that she often finds picture books a lonely place for the MCs, and that really stuck with me.

And while no one is disputing the culture and counter-culture, the solo butt-kicking, SELing, problem-solving, and world-changing;

the ambiguous, hole-poking, could-be-this, could-be-that, is-it-just-a-joke thinkery that goes on in lovely picture books everywhere, I could eat this one with a spoon all day everyday.

Sometimes, our kids just need us, and we love them just by loving them.


One of the pleasures of reading picture books for the first time is the way they renew our sense of discovery. Picture books are sprints, but the best ones create richly evocative worlds, compressing time and experience into something that reflects or approximates essential elements of our lived encounters. The first time I read Jarrett and Jerome Pumphrey‘s THE OLD TRUCK, a feeling of immense poignancy washed over me. I blinked back tears and tried to sound “normal” as I finished speaking the last page. That’s what an incredible picture book can do.

THE OLD TRUCK, Jarrett & Jerome Pumphrey

The Pumphrey brothers’ book is direct, simple, and fundamental, but also mysterious. Emotionally, THE OLD TRUCK exists firmly in a maternal/parental space or cadence, but who is the steadying and fortifying mother? I think it is the truck–which was there at the beginning, when a pregnant mother is about to give birth, and is there at the end, when the daughter of that mother is now a mother of her own little girl and raising her on the same farm. I also loved seeing a black family centered in this farming story.

The eponymous truck is akin to a tutelary spirit, a household god. And like our gods and watchful spirits, it both gives and receives, supporting the family with its labor, but also in need of rest, repair, and perhaps most importantly dreaming. The truck’s imagination feeds the girl’s imagination. The girl’s imagination, translated into creativity, into hard work, feeds and preserves the family and the family’s way of life.

THE OLD TRUCK is one of those books I’m tempted to keep talking and talking about, but I’ll stop. Go and see for yourself. And scoop up their about-to-be released PB: SOMEWHERE IN THE BAYOU.