When we talk about books about joy, we talk about all aspects of joy and the many forms it comes in. Unfortunately, many children’s books that feature BIPOC characters do not explore the many facets of joy that BIPOC children experience. It’s so important for each child to see themselves in every aspect of life—especially those that exude happiness and normalcy.
Today, we are recommending books that explore the joy of play. Play is one of the first things that comes to mind when we think of childhood, so having children see themselves in books where play is happening is essential and affirming.
These are just a few recommendations. You can find more books that explore the joy of play in our Books About Joy reading list here.
Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building by Christy Hale – A picture book that connects great works of architecture to the ways children build and play. Here is a unique celebration of children’s playtime explorations and the surprising ways childhood experiences find expression in the dreams and works of innovative architects. Come be inspired to play—dream—build—discover!
Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems / Jitomates Risueños y otros poemas de primavera by Francisco Alarcón, illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzalez – Tomatoes laugh, chiles explode, and tortillas applaud the sun! With joy and tenderness, delight and sadness, Alcarcón’s poems honor the wonders of life and nature: welcoming the morning sun, remembering his grandmother’s songs, paying tribute to children working in the fields, and sharing his dream of a world filled with gardens. Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems is a verbal and visual treat, giving us twenty opportunities to see everything for the first time.
Sumo Joe by Mia Wenjen, illustrated by Nat Iwata – On Saturday mornings, Sumo Joe is a gentle big brother to his little sister. But on Saturday afternoons, he and his friends are sumo wrestlers! They tie on makeshift mawashi belts, practice drills like teppo, and compete in their homemade dohyo ring. They even observe sumo’s ultimate rule: no girls allowed! But when Sumo Joe’s little sister wants to join in the fun, Sumo Joe is torn between the two things he’s best at—sumo, and being a big brother. Fists, feet, and martial art forms collide in this sweet yet spirited rhyming story by author Mia Wenjen and illustrator Nat Iwata.
King for a Day by Rukhsana Khan, illustrated by Christiane Krömer – Basant is here, with feasts and parties to celebrate the arrival of spring. But what Malik is looking forward to most is doing battle from his rooftop with Falcon, the special kite he has built for speed. Today is Malik’s chance to be the best kite fighter, the king of Basant. This lively, contemporary story introduces readers to a centuries-old festival and the traditional sport of kite fighting, and to a spirited, determined young boy who masters the sport while finding his own way to face and overcome life’s challenges.
What’s the Most Beautiful Thing You Know About Horses? by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by George Littlechild – Author Richard Van Camp has always been curious about horses. He is a member of the Dogrib (Tlicho) Nation, a Native North American tribe that uses dogs instead of horses, because it’s too cold for them up in Canada! One wintry day, he decides to do some investigating. Our friendly guide invites us to accompany him on his playful search for the most beautiful thing about horses. He asks his family, his friends, and even the artist, George Littlechild, what is the most beautiful thing they know about horses. The answers he gets range from zany to profound, and show him that even seemingly ordinary things can be seen in entirely new ways.
If I Were a Tree by Andrea Zimmerman, illustrated by Jing Jing Tsong – Two siblings journey into the woods in a tender story of branching out and new growth. The sister has camped in the forest many times before. The brother is nervous for his first overnight trip. As the illustrations in this multifaceted picture book show the siblings discovering the woods, the text celebrates the strength and grace of the trees that surround them, through evocative verse that speaks to all five senses. Together, Andrea Zimmerman’s wise poem and Jing Jing Tsong’s kaleidoscopic art show how connections with the natural world can inspire us to live fully in the present and look hopefully to the future.
Sunday Shopping by Sally Derby, illustrated by Shadra Strickland – Sunday nights are special for Evie and Grandma. That’s when they go on their weekly shopping spree. Grandma flips open the newspaper to see what’s advertised, and the imaginary tour of neighborhood stores begins. Toting a purse filled with colorful pretend bills, Evie and Grandma take turns “buying” whatever catches their fancy. Overflowing with whimsy and a sweet grandmother-granddaughter relationship, Sunday Shopping is a fun-filled celebration of imagination and family love. Next Sunday, young readers will want to grab some advertisements, snuggle up with their loved ones, and embark on their own shopping adventures.
The Turtle Ship by Helena Ku Rhee, illustrated by Colleen Kong-Savage -Long ago in Korea, a young boy named Sun-sin spent his days playing with his pet turtle Gobugi and dreaming of sailing around the world. As a poor villager, though, his dream to travel seemed impossible. Then one day, the king’s court announced a contest to find the best design for a new battleship to defend the land from invaders. The winner would sail the ocean with the royal navy. Determined to win, Sun-sin attempts to build an indestructible battleship with a few found items. Loosely based on the true story of Admiral Yi Sun-sin and his Turtle Ship, this delightful tale by debut author Helena Ku Rhee and debut illustrator Colleen Kong-Savage introduce young readers to a fascinating episode in Korean history and naval engineering.
Drummer Boy by Mark Greenwood, illustrated by Frané Lessac – Carnival is coming, and the villagers of John John, Trinidad, are getting ready to jump up and celebrate with music, dancing, and a parade. Best of all, the Roti King has promised free rotis—tasty fried pancakes filled with chicken, herbs, and spices—for the best band in the parade. Musical text and sun-drenched paintings joyously transport readers to the Caribbean, and to this exuberant story inspired by the early life of Winston “Spree” Simon, a pioneer in the development of the steel drum.
Summoning the Phoenix: Poems and Prose About Chinese Musical Instruments by Emily Jiang, illustrated by April Chu – Every musician knows that learning to play an instrument has its challenges and its rewards. There’s the embarrassing first day of rehearsal, but also the joy of making friends in the orchestra. There’s dealing with slippery concert dress, or simply getting swept up in the music. The twelve children in this book are just like any other musicians practicing their instruments and preparing for a concert. But what sets these music lovers apart is that they all play traditional Chinese musical instruments in a Chinese orchestra. Including both flights of fancy and practical considerations, lively poems capture each child’s musical experience with a different Chinese instrument, while sidebars provide more information about each one.