First in this (admittedly vague) grouping of picture books is My Self, Your Self by Esmé Shapiro. As you can tell by the gorgeous cover above, the illustrations are the true highlight of this book. I can’t quite pinpoint what each creature / character is, but I’m going to guess they are a mixture of turnips, butterflies, mushrooms and flowers. There is no clear storyline, instead there are images of these cute little forest dwellers interacting, playing, or relaxing around outside while the writing delineates between ‘me’, ‘you’, and the importance of accepting ourselves and each other for how we show up. Essentially each message is conveyed through opposites; we can be together, and be apart, and still be ok.

There is very little text here, so best for your younger readers, aged 2 to 5 would be ideal. I had my oldest read it out loud to both myself and her little brother, which gave me a nice break and kept her interested in this book that’s a bit young for her age and reading level. She admitted to liking the pictures best, while both kids agreed the story was hard to understand and follow (mainly because there was none). Although it’s a cute little book and a successful story in theory, it’s also difficult for kids to truly enjoy because of its focus on abstract concepts.

Next is Dolls and Trucks are for Everyone by Robb Pearlman, illustrated by Eda Kaban. The title is self-explanatory, and a great descriptor of what you’ll find inside; vibrant pictures of kids of all colours, genders and abilities, playing/building with all sorts of toys and materials. Boys at sewing machines, girls with hammers, a child with leg braces dancing – it’s all in here, even a full-page dedicated to kids riding on unicorns, because if it wasn’t already obvious to you adults; unicorns are sort of a bit deal in the kid world!

I wasn’t sure how this would go over with my children, as I assumed they may find it too ‘message heavy’ to enjoy. I was dead wrong about this, as they both enthusiastically exclaimed their love for it. In fact, my 4-year-old son begged me to keep it as he knows I often give away books I review. Whenever we read a new picture book for the first time, I always ask my kids what they thought of it (this is a great way to build early literacy skills, and engage reluctant readers!) and my son immediately stated that he LOVED the pictures. I didn’t think they were anything special, but looking at them afterwards I realized how colorful they were, and how expressive the kids faces were, which seemed to really engage my youngest. My 7-year-old said she enjoyed the writing, and the message was a good one. My kids love toys, we have lots in the house and they both enjoy playing with all varieties, so it makes sense they would like a book that features kids doing the same.

Lastly is a book that doesn’t reference the pandemic, but any parent who sees the title will realize the challenges it is speaking to. Help Mom Work From Home! by Diana Murray, illustrated by Cori Doerrfeld follows a day in the life of a working mom and her very active and imaginative son. The Dad leaves the house in the morning with the baby strapped to his chest, while the Mom stays home and works a full day; taking meetings online, printing documents, and labelling packages are just a few of the tasks she accomplishes while her kid tries to help, but more often than not just makes a mess. Dad comes home at the end of the day with groceries and a suggestion to treat themselves by ordering in dinner, which is met with excitement by all. The house is a mess, the baby’s sleeping, and Mom successfully finished her work with everyone still in a good mood, so it’s considered a successful day.

There is a cat in this household, which gets covered in glitter and dragged around the house so my kids could both relate to and delight in this pet – it offered some comedic examples of how life with a young child can be both fun and exhausting. The text was short and the pictures colorful, so both kids found it engaging and fun, and it can work for wide range of ages; my oldest laughed at the fact that the Mom was clearly annoyed, while my youngest loved the cat antics. I personally appreciated the fact that the Mom was clearly overwhelmed and annoyed at times, because it wouldn’t be a realistic book otherwise; many parents can now relate to this! I also appreciated the fact that Dad took such a major role in caregiving, in fact, it wasn’t even clear if he was working, or just caregiving. This is a lovely breath of fresh air, and quite honestly, more reflective of our current age, as I know many couples who now count the woman as the main breadwinner. The story is a gentle way of demonstrating to kids how it’s important to be respectful of the work adults need to accomplish, but we can all have a good attitude about it and the day will go much smoother – a nice reminder for all ages!

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