Empowering Identities: A Roundup

Written & Illustrated by: 

Various, check out the individual posts below!

For ages: 4-8 years

Language: English

Topics Covered:

  • Historical Figures
  • Own Voices
  • Bicultural
  • Trans Experience
  • Social-Emotional Learning


Books are wonderful things. They reflect our own experiences and provide portals into the experiences of others. I wanted to provide a short roundup of recent releases that empower identities that are not normalized in the media as often as the white heterosexual Eurocentric one is. Below are 5 books that cultivate joy and resilience that I have truly enjoyed reading recently, and I hope your library list grows a bit longer by the end of this roundup!

If you, like me, have decided that you can’t live without any of these books, our Bookshop is linked here. We do make a small commission off of sales at no additional cost to you.

The Heart of Mi Familia: This book follows a young girl as she talks about the two different sides of her family: her father was born in Central America and her abuela still lives there; her mother was born in the US, after her family immigrated several generations ago. 

Our main character is helping both her abuela and grandma get together a special birthday surprise for her younger brother. The story beautifully weaves together a bicultural family, Spanish, and happy memories from various events with grandparents. In the back in an author’s note from Carrie Lara, PsyD, she draws on both professional and personal experiences to talk at length about empowering bicultural children to embrace their unique identities and experiences. It includes tips about supporting students and children, as well as dealing with discrimination. The story overall is beautiful and focuses on the similarities between the different family members houses, and what she does with her cousins.

Written by: Carrie Lara, PsyD & Illustrated by: Christine Battuz

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners: This book is stunningly beautiful in artwork and text. This empowering story has a main character that loves that her eyes are the same as her family members, their eyes all kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea. The story focuses on joy and loving family; the things they do together, the happy moments they relish, and their eyes that glow like a revolution. 

In a society that has very entrenched Eurocentric beauty standards portrayed in the media, self-esteem and confidence is truly a revolutionary act. The illustrations that Dung Ho brought to life phenomenally support the text. The colors are bright, and the pictures are a mix of actual family moments and abstract imaginations from our main character.

Written by: Joanna Ho & Illustrated by: Dung Ho

The ABC’s of Black History combines effortless rhyme, alliteration, and history to bring readers on a journey of learning and empowerment. 

Rather than have one or a small list of words that go with the particular alphabet letter, author Rio Cortez has created a whole scene that gives context and names to various events that often go untaught in schools. There are so many tiny details, like the bookshelf filled Black writers (surely lengthening anyone’s reading list) and the extra information about Kwanzaa. The illustrations by Lauren Semmer are gorgeous, matching perfectly with the powerful text. The blending of joy and history walks a line that doesn’t sugarcoat the past and emphasizes achievement.

Written by: Rio Cortez & Illustrated by: Lauren Semmer

The Fighting Infantryman: This book is so important and shows the existence of the LGBTQ community has been around throughout history, and there have always been those that accepted and celebrated us. This story is beautiful, it tells the multifaceted existence of Albert. Albert was transgender, and he was also a veteran. He passed the physical examination when enlisting by just having his hands and feet inspected. Albert worked and was a part of his community for decades afterwards, living his life quietly and comfortable in his identity. When Albert injured his leg in an accident in 1911, word soon spread that he was transgender. It became national news, and his army pension was threatened. But, in a show of active ally ships and true friendship, veteran friends of Albert’s wrote letters on his behalf. Affirming his identity and bravery in the war, they plead with the government to reinstate Albert’s pension. This would both help Albert financially and ensure that he was recognized by the correct name both in life and afterwards in history.

The transphobia he faced, and the comrades he had that acted on his behalf when he was ill and those that ensured he was buried in his military uniform with the correct name on his gravestone. All of our lives are beautiful and complicated, and the legacy of Albert Cashier is reflective of many identities today, a crucial read for young people everywhere.

Written by:  Rob Sanders & Illustrated by: Nabi H. Ali

My Rainbow: I love many things about this story, and the empowering language is probably the number one aspect that I can’t say enough about. DeShanna unequivocally supports and celebrates her daughter, knowing that everything that makes her unique adds to her beauty. DeShanna trusts her children and recognizes that they know themselves the best.  My Rainbow is a beautiful story that reflects Black trans youth and neurodiversity, and having Trinity and DeShanna write the book, and a QTPOC illustrator makes it that much more meaningful. Our literature should reflect the multifaceted lives of all global citizens, particularly those that are underrepresented and marginalized. I love the way DeShanna describes Trinity as a masterpiece, which is how every person should be described by the people that love them most. DeShanna is committed to ensuring her family is treated with love and respect both in and out of the home, and that other transgender children are understood and loved in their communities as well, which is truly such a beautiful goal that is unequivocally achieved by this book.

Written by: Trinity & DeShanna Neal & Illustrated by: Art Twink

The first four of these books were sent by the publishers, but My Rainbow was purchased with my own money.

Over and Under the Rainforest

Written & Illustrated by: 

Kate Messner & Christopher Silas Neal

For ages: 4-8 years

Language: English

Topics Covered:

  • Family
  • Kids Outdoors
  • Environmental Activism/Preservation
  • Nature
  • Pint-Sized Professor



I know I know, I’m late to the party on this one. But life is quite something in this day and age. Anywho, let’s stop talking about my life and instead let me heap praise upon this book, which is SO cool!

This is the type of book that I wish I could hop into. A child and their Tito are going on a rainforest walk together, seeking out elusive animals and eating snacks upon a hanging bridge. The pair are on nearly every page, but they’re not the focus. The illustrations focus on the vastness of the rainforest, and the menagerie of life that is being observed by the human pair. The reader’s eyes feast upon various green shades of a plethora of plants, and learn about all sorts of animals like basilisk lizards, sloths, and howler monkeys. When dusk falls, the pair must make their way home to Abuelita and the delicious dinner she’s made.

I’m sure you, kind reader, know how much I love Chris’s art style. If you want to learn more about it, I even interviewed him in a Picture Bookstagang episode! I’ll give a small spoiler here, Chronicle has a scientist that looks over his drawings for this series to make sure they’re anatomically correct and easily identifiable. Which honestly, sounds like a pretty badass job. This is the most recent book in the Over and Under series, and it’s sure to spark some excitement for young readers. And I must stick to my predictable closing line and also say I love very much the additional animal info in the back, which comes with a helpful drawing to remind us what it looks like. I also think this would be a fun way to try and find every animal pictured in the book, and talk about environmental preservation and climate justice about these delicate ecosystems that host such an array of unique animals.

This book was kindly sent by Chronicle Kids, but all opinions are my own!

Kate Messner

Kate Messner is passionately curious and writes books that encourage kids to wonder, too. Her titles include award-winning picture books like Over and Under the Pond, Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, Over and Under the PondThe Brilliant Deep, and How to Read a Story; novels that tackle real-world issues like BreakoutAll the Answers, and The Seventh Wish; mysteries and thrillers like Capture the Flag, Eye of the Storm, and Wake Up Missing; the Fergus and Zeke easy reader series; and the popular Ranger in Time chapter book series about a time-traveling search and rescue dog.

Kate’s titles are frequently selected for One School, One Book and One School/One Author programs and other community-wide reads – especially The Seventh Wish, which deals with a family affected by heroin addiction, and Breakout, a novel inspired by a real-world prison break, which takes a look at privilege and perspective. Kate’s books have been New York Times Notable, Junior Library Guild, IndieBound, and Bank Street College of Education Best Books selections. Her novel The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. won the E.B. White Read Aloud Medal, and her science picture books have been finalists for the American Academy for the Advancement of Sciences/Subaru SB&F prize for excellence in science writing.

Before becoming a full-time writer, Kate was a TV news reporter as well as an educator who spent fifteen years teaching middle school English. She lives on Lake Champlain with her family and is trying to summit all 46 Adirondack High Peaks in between book deadlines.

Christopher Silas Neal

Christopher Silas Neal is an award-winning author and illustrator of picture books including Over and Under the Snow with author Kate Messner, which was praised for its “stunning retro-style illustrations” (New York Times) along with Over and Under The Pond and Up In the Garden and Down in The Dirt. He makes books that feature animals, shapes, science, friendship and silliness, and strives to create diverse and inclusive characters that reflect the kids and parents who read his books. Neal’s author debut titled “Everyone” was praised by Publisher’s Weekly as “simple, honest, lyrical”. His board book series (Animals Colors, Animal Shapes) received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus. He speaks about his books, the art making process, and his career at schools, conferences, libraries and book festivals across the country. Neal is a Mexican/Eurpoean-American artist who lives with his wife and two boys in Brooklyn, NY.

Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragon

Written By: Kat Zhang

Illustrated by: Charlene Chua

For Ages: 4 years and up

Language: English

Topics Covered: Family, Self-Esteem, Chinese Culture, Art, Creativity, Own Voices.

Summary: Amy is such a fun and buoyant protagonist, and I’m so glad she’s back for another adventure! After an exciting read aloud about dragons, Amy and her classmates set about creating their own. When Amy draws on that represents her Chinese heritage, some other students have questions about it. With the help of her grandma (who is everything I wish to be when I’m her age), Amy is able to make a plan to bring an unforgettable show and tell to school the next day that is celebratory and infused with her impressive problem-solving skills.

I love this own voices story, and it centers around a situation that’s happened in many classrooms around the globe but isn’t negative. Amy follows her creative heart first and foremost, and relies on what feels right for her. Instead of changing herself, she focuses on explaining to others and showing them the beauty of Eastern dragons. I also really like Amy’s teacher, Ms. Mary. She lets the kids express themselves creatively and celebrates all of their scaly interpretations! Overall, this is such a sweet and joyful story and the perfect sequel to the Perfect Bao that we were lucky enough to have published last year.

This book was kindly sent by Simon & Schuster Canada as a submission for #bookstagang_bestof2020 but all opinions are my own!

Kat Zhang

Kat Zhang spent most of her childhood tramping through a world woven from her favorite stories and games. When she and her best friend weren’t riding magic horses or talking to trees, they were writing adaptations of plays for their stuffed animals (what would The Wizard of Oz have been like if the Cowardly Lion were replaced by a Loquacious Lamb?). This may or may not explain many of Kat’s quirks today.

By the age of twelve, Kat had started her first novel and begun plans for her life as a Real Live Author. Said plans didn’t come into fruition until seven years later, when her agent sold her Young Adult trilogy, The Hybrid Chronicles, to HarperCollins. The series, about a parallel universe where everyone is born with two souls, concluded in 2014.

She has also published two Middle Grade novels with Simon & Schuster. The first, The Emperor’s Riddle, is about hidden treasure, lost aunts, and China. The second, The Memory of Forgotten Things, is about grief, solar eclipses, and misfit children. She also has two picture books, Amy Wu & the Perfect Bao and Amy Wu & the Patchwork Dragon, and is working on a series of books with Baobab Studios and Penguin Random House about the Magic Paintbrush legends.

Kat is represented by Emmanuelle Morgen of Stonesong. 

Charlene Chua

Charlene Chua (pronounced: CHOO-ah)  has illustrated many things over the years for kids of all ages.  Her illustration work has won several awards, while books she has illustrated have been nominated for OLA Forest of Reading,USBBY Outstanding International Books,OLA Best Bets, Shining Willow Award, and Kirkus Best books. Charlene’s author/illustrator debut, Hug? was published by Kids Can Press in 2020. Charlene was born and grew up in Singapore, and moved to Canada in 2007. She started work in 1998 as a web designer, and went on to become a senior designer, web producer and interactive project manager.  However, what she really wanted to do was draw pictures all day. In 2003, she decided to give it a go, and after a few years, she became a full-time illustrator.When she is not making art, she enjoys cooking, reading, and playing with her cats. She now lives with her husband (and cats!) in Hamilton, Ontario.

The ABC’S of Black History

Written & Illustrated by: 

Rio Cortez & Lauren Semmer

For ages: 5 years and up

Language: English

Topics Covered:

  • Historical Figures
  • Activism
  • Black Culture & Identity
  • Trailblazers
  • Rhyming & Literacy
  • Black Joy



As soon as I saw this book, I had an inkling it would be phenomenal. I don’t think I was prepared for just how beautiful it is. Alphabet books can be hit or miss, and also a turnoff for older readers who might feel they’re “for little kids” and not for them. The ABC’s of Black History combines effortless rhyme, alliteration, and history to bring readers on a journey of learning and empowerment.

Rather than have one or a small list of words that go with the particular alphabet letter, author Rio Cortez has created a whole scene that gives context and names to various events that often go untaught in schools. There are so many tiny details, like the bookshelf filled Black writers (surely lengthening anyone’s reading list) and the extra information about Kwanzaa.

The illustrations by Lauren Semmer are gorgeous, matching perfectly with the powerful text. The blending of joy and history walks a line that doesn’t sugarcoat the past and emphasizes achievement. You know I’m always interested in extra info in the back pages, and this doesn’t disappoint. There is further information about each letter in the alphabet and a beautiful surprise under the book jacket! I can’t emphasize enough how brilliantly done this Own Voices book is, and how much of a requirement for every shelf it will remain for the foreseeable future.

This book was kindly sent by Workman, but all opinions are my own!

Rio Cortez

Rio Cortez is the author of I Have Learned to Define a Field as a Space Between Mountains (Jai Alai Books, 2015) and The ABCs of Black History (Workman, 2020). Born and raised in Salt Lake City, she now lives, writes, and works in Harlem.

Lauren Semmer

Lauren Semmer is an artist, children’s book illustrator, and designer. She studied drawing at St. Paul College of Visual Arts and art history at New York University. Lauren’s bright and charming work is featured on everything from kid’s wall art to children’s apparel. She lives in Manhattan with her family. 

Freedom Summer for Young People: The Violent Season That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy

Written By: Bruce Watson

Adapted by: Rebecca Stefoff

For Ages: YA

Language: English

Topics Covered: Modern Black Freedom Struggle, History, Politics, Racism, Segregation, Civil Rights, Activism, Voting, White Supremacy.

Summary: This book is powerful, and it relies heavily on first-person accounts of events, which is ideal for a text that aims to discuss events of this magnitude. Freedom Summer reinforces time and time again, that “the volunteers knew that they had no been heroes like the local people, nor pioneers like the first civil rights workers. They had merely gone to a place where many outsiders feared to go. They had been witnesses and spotlights” (403). The book is not about white saviourism, it’s about accountability and a drive to do what’s right.

I’m finding it hard to put into words the necessity of knowing our colonized country’s violent struggle for Black freedom and basic human rights (which are still being fought for today). My mentor from graduate school is a longtime activist, and her friend was one of these volunteers during the Freedom Summer. Her friend joined us for the semester in one of the classes that my mentor taught, (“Narratives of Oppression, Resistance, and Resilience”) and focused the majority of the class on this time period. She brought in pictures and told stories as we read various memoirs and discussed the intricacies of social movements. We white people are shielded purposefully from so much due to the carefully constructed white supremacist society we live in. Freedom Summer has a plethora of photos, individuals are named, and there’s a bunch of annotations in the back which can lead a reader hungry for more (like myself) down a rabbit hole of newspaper articles and additional books. If you have a reader that is at a YA level, this book is an excellent primer for gathering more knowledge about a pivotal time in (what is now called) America’s history.

This book was kindly sent by Seven Stories Press, but all opinions are my own. I recommend reading Endesha Ida Mae Holland’s memoire afterwards, since she’s mentioned in this book as well!

Rebecca Stefoff

Rebecca Stefoff has written more than 50 books for young adults, specializing in geography and biography. She earned her PhD at the University of Pennsylvania and lives in Portland, Oregon.

Bruce Watson

Bruce Watson is a Contributing Editor of American Heritage and the author of the critically-acclaimed books Freedom SummerSacco and Vanzetti: The Men, The Murders, and The Judgment of Mankind, and Bread and Roses. He writes a history blog at https://www.theattic.space/.

Watson received a master’s degree in American history from the University of Massachusetts, and worked as a journalist, an elementary school teacher, and a Peace Corps volunteer. He lives in Western Massachusetts. 

“Bruce Watson interviewed dozens of those young volunteers decades later, gathering their stories of that frightening, hopeful season of blood, sweat, and tears. Freedom Summer for Young People is the story of a triple murder that riveted the nation, a vital piece of the Civil Rights movement–and the story of young people who made history, often told in their own words.” (quote from Rebecca Stefoff’s website about Freedom Summer)

Fly, Firefly!

Written By: Shana Keller

Illustrated by: Ramona Kaulitzki

For Ages: 4-8 years

Language: English

Topics Covered: Rhyming, Science, Nature, Bioluminescence, Kindness, Family, Girls Outdoors.

Summary: This sweet and simple rhyming story is about a firefly that gets lost and ends up in the ocean, misdirected by bioluminescence. Rescued by a young woman and her niece, the firefly is set back on the right track.

The illustrations in this book are absolutely stunning, and it awoke the nostalgia I have for firefly hunting as a child when I lived on a farm in Kansas. Fly, Firefly! is an excellent example of a story with characters of color experiencing joy and kindness for the natural world, rather than overcoming a great struggle. The rhyming doesn’t feel forced, and overall the story is just an ode to lovely summer evening walks and lending a helping hand to the smallest critters that we come in contact with. For the record, I am definitely the person that releases every spider outside and doesn’t swat flies (much to some individuals dismay). Author Shana Keller grew up near Rachel Carson’s homestead, and there’s additional information about her in the back, as well as the finer points between bioluminescence, phosphorescence, and fluorescence.

This book was sent by Sleeping Bear Press as a submission for the #bookstagang_bestof2020 list, but all opinions are my own!

Shana Keller

From Shana’s website:

“The day I got my library card was far more exciting than the day I got my driver’s license. Okay, maybe not. But, it was just as liberating! In addition to reading (or writing) about amazing people, and learning as much as I can about history, I will always take time off to watch a good football game. 

I have traveled and moved too many times to count all over the country and some parts of Europe. Despite all the moves, traveling is still one of my favorite things to do.”

Ramona Kaulitzki

Ramona Kaulitzki is a freelance illustrator based in Germany. She specializes in children’s illustration and although works digitally, she also likes to integrate analog mediums into her work. Besides commissioned work, Ramona loves to work on self-initiated projects like fine art series or her own children’s books.

Julián at the Wedding

Written & Illustrated by: Jessica Love

For Ages: 4-8 years

Language: English

Topics Covered: Sequels, Latinx Family, BIPOC Protagonists, Weddings, LGBTQ Relationships, Love, Friendship.

Summary: Julián is back, this time in a wedding! Julián and his friend Marisol have important jobs in the ceremony, and have been given fancy outfits to go with it. Afterwards, the pair slip off on an adventure into the magical branches of a weeping willow.

I love both of these books because of the way the family accepts each other for who they are, and this wedding adventure is no different. Julián and Marisol’s creativity with their wedding outfits are greeted with humor from their grandmothers and excitement from the brides that they’re back at the reception. This is all we can hope for in a family, to be accepted and celebrated for exactly who we are.

Jessica Love’s whimsical artistic style is a delight for the eyes, and I hardly noticed the sparse text. The brides getting married positively glow with love, and makes me long for breezy summer nights out with friends feeling our bare feet in the grass and enjoying each others company.

This book was kindly sent by Candlewick Press, but all opinions are my own!

Jessica Love

Jessica Love is the author and illustrator of Julián is a Mermaid, published by Candlewick Press. Jessica grew up in Southern California, raised by a pair of artist parents. She studied printmaking and illustration at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and then went on to study acting at Juilliard. Jessica has a new book, Julián at the Wedding  to be released in October, 2020. Jessica lives in Brooklyn. 

A Girl Named Rosita

Written By: Anika Aldamuy Denise

Illustrated by: Leo Espinosa

For Ages: 4-8 years

Language: English

Topics Covered: Rita Moreno, Latinx Family, Show Business, Performance, Acting, Biography, Racism.

Summary: It’s hard to think of a time when the world didn’t know Rita Moreno’s name. After all, she’s one of only six women to have an EGOT! Rosita Alverio was born in Puerto Rico, and moved to NYC when she was a young girl with her mother. There, she began dance classes and was eventually signed by MGM and given the name Rita instead of Rosita (and took her stepfather’s last name Moreno). Unfortunately, despite all of her hard work to be bilingual, she was given only stereotypical roles.

After being the first Puerto Rican (and Latina) to ever win an Oscar for her role in West Side Story, the door opened for her and she continues to act to this day (I personally love her in One Day at a Time). This book is a lovely tribute to the adventure-filled life of Rita Moreno, and I love that it discusses the racism found in the film industry. In the back is a timeline of events with more in-depth information, and a lengthy author’s note. The illustrations are adorable, and I love the joy that Leo Espinosa conveys when Rita is shown dancing and performing.

This book was kindly sent by HarperKids, but all opinions are my own!

Anika Aldamuy Denise

Anika Aldamuy Denise writes award-winning fiction and nonfiction books for young readers. Her picture book Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré, illustrated by Paola Escobar, was the recipient of the 2020 Pura Belpré Author Honor, NCTE Orbis Pictus Honor for Outstanding Children’s Nonfiction, and the Arnold Adoff Poetry Award for Early Readers. Planting Stories was also named a Best Children’s Book of 2019 by Smithsonian Magazine, School Library Journal, New York Public Library, Los Angeles Public Library, Chicago Public Library, Bank Street College of Education, and the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature. 

Anika’s books have been featured in The New York Times, Today.com, Kids Indie Next List, A Mighty Girl, Junior Library Guild, and in the Children’s Book Council’s Around the World Showcase. Her forthcoming picture book, A Girl Named Rosita: The Story of Rita Moreno: Actor, Singer, Dancer, Trailblazer!, illustrated by Leo Espinosa, will be released on November 3, 2020. 

In addition to writing, Anika is a frequent speaker in elementary schools, high schools, and universities—as well as organizations like SCBWI and the Writers’ Loft of Massachusetts—where she leads workshops in creative writing and diversity in kids’ literature. 

Raised in Queens, New York, Anika now lives in Rhode Island with her husband and three daughters.

Leo Espinosa

Leo Espinosa is an award-winning Illustrator and Designer from Bogotá, Colombia, whose work has been featured internationally in a variety of publications, products, animated series and gallery shows. His short list includes The New Yorker, The New York Times, the BBC, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Chronicle Books, Swatch, and Facebook.
Leo’s work has been recognized by The Society of Illustrators, American Illustration, Communication Arts, and 3×3. In 2019, he received the Pura Belpré Honor Book award for Islandborn, from the American Library Association. The New York Times bestselling children’s book was written by Pulitzer Prize winner, Junot Díaz.
Most days you’ll find him drawing picture books, unless he’s out riding his bike in the mountains around Salt Lake City, where he lives with his wife.

A Natural History of Fairies

Written By: Emily Hawkins

Illustrated by: Jessica Roux

For Ages: 6 years and up

Language: English

Topics Covered: Nature, Fantasy, Science.

Summary: This book is a beautiful blend of fantasy and science! It has a unique mixture for the reader who loves fairies and wants to learn more about them, and real scientific information about things like bone density, geography, and animal classification.

The illustrations are quite diverse and show all types of fairies that live across the globe, integrating aspects of that ecosystem into how the fairies live their lives, such as different ways to camouflage themselves and migration patterns. I love the pages that have different leaf identification charts and information about plant pollination. A Natural History of Fairies leans into the magic of the world, and has letters from the reader’s Aunt Elsie (a renowned scientist) on a trek to find more elusive fairies.

Overall, I really love this book, it’s just a whole lot of fun. I especially love the illustrations and I think it can help reluctant STEM readers learn about the natural (and magical) world!

This book was kindly sent by Quarto, but all opinions are my own!

Emily Hawkins

Emily Hawkins is a children’s author who loves making complicated things easy to understand. She has written more than 40 books about all sorts of things, from mythical creatures and magic to mathematics, ocean animals, dinosaurs, cars and trains. 

Her work has been featured on the New York Times bestseller list (Oceanology, 2009) as well as winning the Children’s Travel Book of the Year Award (Atlas of Animal Adventures, 2016). Her interest in myth, folklore and storytelling was in-part inspired by her work as an editor on the internationally popular Ology series, which has sold over 18 million copies worldwide. 

Emily holds a first-class English degree from Nottingham University, and lives in a village near Winchester, England, with her young family. You can find her on Instagram @emilyhawkinsbooks.

Jessica Roux

Jessica Roux is a Nashville-based freelance illustrator and plant & animal enthusiast. She loves exploring in her own backyard and being surrounded by an abundance of nature. Using subdued colors and rhythmic shapes, she renders flora and fauna with intricate detail reminiscent of old world beauty. She is currently available for freelance work so feel free to contact her.

2020 STEM Book Roundup

Written & Illustrated by: 

See Individual Reviews Below

For ages: Elementary & MG

Language: English

Topics Covered:

  • Historical Figures
  • Women in STEM
  • Activism
  • Environmental Activism
  • Trailblazers

Since the end of this…eventful…year is upon us, I decided to make a roundup of some of my favorite books that came out this year in the STEM/Environmental category for books. Please enjoy this roundup, as well as the collection of strange anecdotes about my own life that I chose to share with you all. If they’re in any way at all relatable to you, comment below so I don’t feel so precocious and alone. Happy reading!

Plasticus Maritimus: An Invasive Species

By: Ana Pêgo and Isabel Minhós Martins

Illustrated by: Bernardo P. Carvalho

Translated by: Jane Springer

Marine Biologist Ana Pêgo got the inspiration for this book after noticing how much plastic had started to appear on the beach near her childhood home in Portugal. She gives ocean plastic its own scientific name as a tongue in cheek way to address the epidemic. The authors break down (unlike plastic, haha) how plastic is formed, how it ends up in oceans, and the critical work that is needed in order to rectify the issue.

We’ve all read books and learned about recycling. I like the way Plasticus Maritimus speaks directly to the reader in the first person and implores them to understand the implications of some parts of our lifestyle. I do think the need for some disposable items (like pre-peeled fruit or straws) for disabled citizens should have been discussed briefly, and the need to switch to compostable plastics for these items. I really like the illustrations in this book, they get across the seriousness of the plastic pollution issue without having graphic photographs of injured animals. There are some real photographs that showcase different litter that was found, and it’s treated like field research artifacts. There are also tips about collecting your own artifacts and litter of plasticus maritimus, and ideas for responding to naysayers and climate change deniers. One part of the book I also really found fascinating was famous cargo ship disasters and the things they released into the ocean, like Kinder Eggs and rubber ducks!

This book was kindly sent by Greystone Kids, but all opinions are my own!


Curated by: Katy Wiedemann (illustrations) & Jennifer Z. Paxton (words)

I feel like the more I talk about the bookish child I was, the less you fine folx will be surprised that I was a Surgery Channel kid. I’m also obsessed with scientific illustrations, and am a huge fan of this entire Welcome to the Museum series (I’ve reviewed Botanicum before as well)! I love all of these detailed illustrations and the oversized volume that Anatomicum is fits the bill for something I would absolutely leave on a coffee table or a shelf where I can pull it down, flip through and learn something about gall bladders or the peripheral nervous system.

Something I also appreciate is that several skin tones are represented. I know you’ve all seen old (re: Eurocentric and racist) illustrations in old textbooks that only have white cadavers. This one isn’t entirely white, and the anatomical illustrations are absolutely gorgeous. If you’re the type of person to find a cutaway diagram of the nose and tongue inside a skull beautiful (which I obviously am, always have been, always will be) this is a book that I would easily have prints framed and put on my walls.

This book was generously sent by Candlewick Press, and all those opinions are cooked up by me, professional thinker about books. Once Lee and I went on a quest to 4 Target’s for a life-size skeleton to keep in our car’s (her name is Bertie) backseat, so I feel like that anecdote helps you understand my love for biology.

Ocean Anatomy: The Curious Pieces & Parts of the World Under the Sea

Written by: Julia Rothman with John Niekrasz

Illustrated by: Julia Rothman

I really love this book and immediately upon receiving it I dove in. I think it pairs nicely with Plasticus Maritimus in that it discusses the ocean (obviously) and some threats to its health, but also focuses primarily on the different marine life that one can find and has lovely illustrations.

My first aspirational career as a child was a marine biologist, and this is definitely book that I would have pored over for hours while in a treehouse or the woods. Like the cover suggests, there are detailed anatomy illustrations of different species as well as diagrams on what lives at different oceanic levels. I’m enamored with the sections on sharks, rays, jellyfish, and cephalopods (I’ve been known to give spontaneous lessons about chromatophores at my local aquarium, and this is 100% as dorky as it sounds). Now might be the time to mention that I have a half sleeve tattoo of ocean animals…so really, how could I not love this book? The chapter setup is a way that I love in reference books. They can be read all together or flipped to a certain one to learn all about nautical flags, seals, or nudibranchs. If you thought there was only one kind of shrimp, you are quite wrong my friend! My personal favorite is the pistol shrimp, but you’ll have to check out this book to learn why!

This book was kindly sent by Storey Publishing as a submission for the #bookstagang_bestof2020 list, however all opinions are still mine mine all mine.

Animals Mate: A Book About Where Babies Come From

Written & Illustrated by: Emily Farranto

Let’s begin this review with a story from when I ran a summer day program. I was supervising children and staff members on a visit to the zoo, and upon reaching the bear exhibit, it was quite obvious that the bears were engaging in some afternoon delight. Stricken with the fear of having to explain mating to 65 children in the blazing July heat in front of the event itself, we called it “wrestling” and moved onto another less exciting habitat. Animals Mate would have come in handy that day, and I’m glad it’s here now!

This book focuses on the animal kingdom with only the briefest of mentioning humans. I like this feature of the book because the language used to describe animal mating is heteronormative and binary reinforcing, which makes complete sense when talking about scientific animal reproduction. It’s not meant as a book about the human “birds and bees” talk, it’s meant to open the door to talk about wild animals and teach the beginning bits of knowledge needed for more in-depth conversations down the road, especially where human gender diversity comes into play.

Animals Mate teaches readers about the biological necessity of adult animals mating and how babies are formed. It also gives a few specific examples like koalas, and that animal instincts kick in when it’s time for them to mate. The book walks a nice line of educational and bridging the gap for those awkward conversations that kids always ask. In the back is a note from creator Emily Farranto where she talks more about how the book came out of questions from her son, and how she went about ensuring open lines of communication and honesty for many years to come.

This book was kindly sent by Familius as a submission for the #bookstagang_bestof2020 and opinions are very much my own.

Sound: Shhh…Bang…POP…BOOM!

Written by: Romana Romanyshyn

Illustrated by: Andriy Lesiv

Translated by: Vitaly Chernetsky

This book is quirky in every definition of the word and I love it. It has the funky illustration style that I dig oh so much and while I’m normally more of a jewel-toned gal, I’m a big fan of these neon colors with metallic silver details. Aesthetics aside, the contents of the text is also really awesome!

The text itself is sparse and creatively placed on the pages, making it a fun journey throughout the book while reading. The book even incorporates the endpapers, which I think is such a unique and cool idea! Sound incorporates just that…all things sound and silence! The little fragments of information spread over the pages made me want to seek out the teeny letters, turn the book around, and flip back and forth between pages to draw parallels and revisit different aspects of the soundiverse…(it’s totally a word).

This book was kindly sent by Chronicle Kids as part of a wonderful suprise box of books! It also happened to be a submission for the #bookstagang_bestof2020 list, but you guess it: all these words that form my reviews are bespoke and braincrafted by yours truly.

50 Maps of the World

Written & Researched by: Kalya Ryan and Ben Handicott

Illustrated by: Sol Linero

Humans, I love a good infographic book. I want to pick up a giant book, flip to a random page, and learn trivia facts. I want maps, notable moments in that country’s history, and fun illustrations to transport me on a mini vacation across the globe.

There’s an excellent index in the back, and if I was still in the classroom this would have already been taped back together again several times over. I love visual mediums like this, that bring these maps to life for the reader. The key facts box is really cool too, and I enjoyed learning the different names for currency in each country and fun tidbits like official bird and flower. At this point, my list of coffee table books could probably make their own coffee table, but I love the way 50 Maps of the World engages readers and then teaches them ultra-cool stuff about people we don’t always get a chance to meet in day to day life!

This book was kindly sent by Quarto, and if you’ve gotten this far into my roundup, you’ll know that all these thinky-thoughts are solely my own.

The Language of the Universe: A Visual Exploration of Mathematics

Written by: Colin Stuart

Illustrated by: Ximo Abadia

I am not a math person. I’m a “took remedial math several times to graduate” person. Science? Yes. Biology? Yes. Math? No thank you, next please…The Language of the Universe book? Possibly the easiest time I’ve ever had learning about math (yes I know it’s for children, the point very much still stands).

First off, this giant book is very visually appealing and the illustrations are in the graphic style that I just can’t get enough of. All of the infographics help break up what are so often in textbooks giant blocks of text, and help to illustrate the specific points being made. The book itself is broken into four sections: math in the natural world, space, technology, and physics, chemistry and engineering. There are all sorts of humorous bits stuck into the illustrations like a vampire to illustrate half-lives, or a captain floating in the water after his boat was packed with too much cargo.

I think the main aspect that I like about this is that it makes mathematics engaging and approachable to learn about. It makes comparisons to things we’ve done (like pack a suitcase) to help explain what makes bees such engineering geniuses. I don’t think I’ve ever been excited to read about math before, and I keep coming back to this book!

This book was generously sent by Candlewick Press, and all those opinions up there about it are IP of myself, especially all the anecdotes.


If any of these books struck your fancy and you need them in your collection, please consider purchasing from our Bookshop, from which we make a small commission that goes towards website costs. The books in this roundup have all been added to my Pint-Sized Professor (Nature/STEM) booklist!

%d bloggers like this: