The Gift of Reading: Beautiful Books

We know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but every once in awhile, you find a book so beautifully written and illustrated that it takes your breath away. If you're looking for something extra special for a young reader — or not-so-young reader — in your life, take a look at these enchanting titles. You won't be disappointed!

Alicia Alonso: Prima Ballerina

"Similar in form and concept to many of Bernier-Grand's previous books, this beautiful volume offers a biographical account of ballerina Alicia Alonso through a sequence of free-verse poems, extensive background notes, and large-scale illustrations. Beginning with Alonso's childhood in Cuba, the book relates how she moved to New York in 1937 and overcame partial blindness to dance again, winning worldwide renown." — Booklist

Be Water, My Friend

Bruce Lee
Illustrated by: Dom Lee
Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

In this tribute to martial arts legend Bruce Lee, Ken Mochizuki tells the story of Lee's childhood and youth in Hong Kong before coming to America. Dramatic illustrations evoking sepia photographs depict Bruce's power and grace as he mastered the martial arts throughout his young life.


Illustrated by: A.G. Ford
Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

"This heart-tugging picture book from a debut author tells a lyrical soccer story in the voice of a young boy in a South African shantytown… In full-page oil paintings, Ford uses unusual angles to intensify the sense of the scuffling, exciting action; the tense confrontation; and the reality of shantytown life." — Gillian Engberg, Booklist

Grandfather's Journey

Grandfather's Journey
By: Allen Say
Age Level: 6-9

A young man travels from his native Japan to the vast country called America before returning to visit his home with his bride. The exquisite watercolors give the appearance of a family photo album as it relates this autobiographical but universal story of immigration.


Grandma's Gift

Illustration of grandmother hugging grandson
Age Level: 6-9

It's Christmastime, and Eric has a special assignment — he has to write a report about a new painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Eric's grandmother makes a deal with him: if he will help her make traditional Puerto Rican pasteles, she will take him to the museum. Together they leave the familiar neighborhoods of Spanish Harlem and venture out to the Met, where Eric encounters a painting that changes his life. A note from author and illustrator Eric Velasquez provides some background to this quiet yet profound story from his childhood.

José! Born to Dance: The Story of José Limón

Illustrated by: Raúl Colón
Age Level: 6-9

Born in 1908, in a small Mexican village, José Limón seemed destined to become an artist rather than a world-famous dancer. The lyrical language incorporates onomatopoeic and Spanish words. The distinctive illustrations with swirling colors reveal the life of a great modern dancer and choreographer.

Little Night

Age Level: 3-6

As the long day comes to an end, Mother Sky fills a tub with falling stars and calls, "Bath time for Little Night!" Little Night answers from afar, "Can't come. I am hiding and you have to find me, Mama. Find me now!" Where could Little Night be? Down a rabbit hole? In a blueberry field? Among the stripes of bees? Exquisitely painted and as gentle as Little Night's dress crocheted from clouds, this is a story to treasure.

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood

Girl imagining drawing
Illustrated by: Rafael López
Age Level: 6-9

What good can a splash of color do in a town that is gray? As Mira and her neighbors discover, more than you might ever imagine! Based on the true story of the Urban Art Trail in San Diego, California, Maybe Something Beautiful reveals how art can inspire transformation—and how even the smallest artists can accomplish something big. Pick up a paintbrush and join the celebration! 


A young Indian girl looks at clouds in the sky
Illustrated by: Jamel Akib
Age Level: 6-9

As a child in India waits for the rains of the monsoon to begin, she watches the sky, the clouds, and the animals closely. She wonders what will happen if the rains bring floods, or if the rains do not come at all. This is a story of the seasons, and of people who have an intimate relationship with their natural surroundings. The colorful sketches will transport readers to another world, prompting them to wonder when the rains will begin.

Nadia's Hands

Illustrated by: Jonathan Weiner
Age Level: 6-9
Language: English

Nadia's aunt is about to get married, and Nadia has been chosen as the flower girl. This means that her aunt will be putting mehndi on Nadia's hands, covering them with beautiful designs for the wedding. Nadia isn't sure she wants hands to look so different, and she worries that she will be teased at school. Little by little, though, Nadia comes to appreciate the special Pakistani tradition that she shares with many generations of women in her family. Readers will be fascinated by the lovely oil paintings of the mehndi tradition and designs.

Parrots Over Puerto Rico

Collage art of parrots flying
Age Level: 6-9

Puerto Rican parrots, once abundant, came perilously close to extinction in the 1960s due to centuries of foreign exploration and occupation, development, and habitat destruction. In this compelling book, Roth and Trumbore use collage illustrations and a unique format to recount the efforts of the scientists of the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program to save the parrots and ensure their future.


Illustrated by: Kim LaFave
Age Level: 6-9

Shi-shi-etko has just four days until she will have to leave her family and everything she knows to attend one of Canada's Indian residential schools. She spends her last precious days at home treasuring and appreciating the beauty of her world — the dancing sunlight, the tall grass, each shiny rock, the tadpoles in the creek, her grandfather's paddle song. LaFave's richly hued illustrations complement Campbell's gently moving and poetic account of a child who finds solace around her, even though she is on the verge of great loss.

Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story

Anna May Wong
By: Paula Woo
Illustrated by: Lin Wang
Age Level: 6-9
Language: English

Anna May Wong grew up in San Francisco in the 1920s, working diligently in her family's laundromat but secretly daydreaming of becoming a movie star. When she set out to realize her dream, she soon discovered the lack of opportunity in Hollywood for Asian American actors. After traveling in Europe and China, Anna May ultimately decided to portray only roles she felt presented a positive image of Asians, leading the way for the many actors who followed in her footsteps.

Sky Dancers

Illustrated by: Christy Hale
Age Level: 6-9

"In her first work of fiction for children, Kirk introduces the generations-old connection between the Mohawk people and steelworking. John Cloud, who lives on a reservation, misses his father and uncle during their weeks working construction sites in Manhattan. John's first visit to the city brings both strange sights ('There were traffic lights where John thought trees should be') and deepening pride when he witnesses his father's agile figure high atop the incomplete Empire State Building." — Booklist

Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian

Illustrated by: Julie Paschkis
Age Level: 3-6

Butterflies were once thought to be "beasts of the devil." Maria Merian, a perceptive young German naturalist, knew better. She recorded her notes and drawings on the butterflies' transformation in secret so that she would not be accused of witchcraft and later became a famous scientist and artist who helped the rest of the world understand natural life cycles. Margarita Engle brings her extraordinary story to life, accompanied by Julie Paschkis' gorgeous illustrations.

Tan to Tamarind: Poems About the Color Brown

Painting of diverse people

This collection of multicultural poetry celebrates the color brown and all of the delicious and familiar places it can be found, from the reddish-brown mountains of the Southwest to the tamarind paste used in Mumbai to the acorns found on a city street. Author Malathi Michelle Iyengar uses the poems to express an appreciation for the many ethnic backgrounds who describe their skin color as "brown" around the world. Jamel Akib's warm drawings are a perfect complement to the poetry.

The Cazuela That the Farm Maiden Stirred

Illustration of young woman running with bowl and wooden mixing spoon
Illustrated by: Rafael López
Age Level: 3-6
Language: English, Spanish vocabulary featured

Start with a farm maiden and a pot, invite some friends to help her, and before you know it, you have arroz con leche — and a rollicking party! Told in the style of "The House That Jack Built," this lively story incorporates new Spanish words into each refrain, which are highlighted by Rafael López's vibrant and entertaining illustrations. Activity guide available.

The Falling Flowers

Illustrated by: Henry Cole
Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

Grandmother has a surprise for Mayumie — is it a visit to the zoo, a museum, or the big city? When they finally reach their destination, Mayumie understands what makes visiting a cherry blossom grove so special: the beautiful pink flowers only bloom once a year! Readers will be enchanted by the magic of the story and the illustrations that capture the stunning colors of the cherry blossom trees. An author's note provides historical details, as well as information on the cherry blossom trees in Washington, DC.

The Star People: A Lakota Story

Age Level: 6-9

"While exploring the land around their village, Sister Girl and Young Wolf stray too far. After narrowly escaping a roaring prairie fire, the siblings find themselves lost and frightened in the dark, open land until the Star People, 'the spirits of the Old Ones who once walked on the earth,' offer comfort and guidance home.

The Whispering Cloth

Illustrated by: Anita Riggio
Age Level: Middle Grade (9-14)

After much practice, Mai is finally ready to make her own pa'dau, or embroidered story cloth. Listening to the stories of her grandmother and the other women at the refugee camp, however, she feels that there are no stories left for her to stitch. Can she find a story of her own? This moving tribute to the Hmong people is richly enhanced by a breathtaking, intricate story cloth woven for the book by pa'ndau artist You Yang.

Uncle Monarch and the Day of the Dead

Illustration of a young girl watching a butterfly fly past
Illustrated by: René King Moreno
Age Level: 6-9

Day after day, Lupita and Tío Urbano watch the Monarch butterflies arrive. Urbano says they are the souls of the dead ones arriving in time for Día de los muertos. When Urbano becomes sick and dies soon after, Lupita feels only sadness — until she sees the Monarchs and remembers Urbano's words. The beautiful story and illustrations bring the true meaning of this important celebration to life for readers young and old.

Under the Ramadan Moon

Illustrated by: Garth Williams
Age Level: 6-9

During Ramadan, this loving family prays and fasts together. They also stop bad habits, give to the poor, hang bright lights, and visit friends — all under the Ramadan moon! Lush pastel illustrations fill the pages with soft moonlight, the warmth of friends and family, and beautiful designs at the Mosque. Children will enjoy repeating the lyrical refrain that appears throughout the story. Author's note included.