Here are some short takes on books with city settings for kids on the younger end of the spectrum. Side note: both of these authors were at KidLitCon this year, and I had a lovely conversation with Zetta Elliott.
Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora. Little, Brown Young Readers, 2018.
Omu is Igbo for queen, according to the author’s note, but also what she called her grandmother growing up. In this story, Omu is making “thick red stew” for dinner, the wonderful smell of which brings one person after another to her door begging for a taste of it, from a little boy to a police officer, a hot dog vendor, and even the mayor. There’s a nice variety of skin tones and genders across jobs and a feel-good community ending. The art is truly worthy of its Caldecott honor, collage made of printed and painted papers, books and newsprint, and even, especially delighting my mother, vintage sewing patterns. This is great for reading aloud, and was a hit with everyone I showed it to from kid through teen to adult.
Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott. Illustrated by Geneva B. Random House, 2018.
Formerly mostly self-published author Zetta Elliott was finally picked up by a major publisher in this not quite middle grade book. It does, however, continue in the vein of other stories the author has set in the neighborhood. Jax’s mother has left him with “Ma” while going to court to try to keep their house. He doesn’t quite know who Ma is, but he learns pretty quickly that she has plenty of secrets. When a squirrel tries to open a box that turns out to contain baby dragons, Jax and his friends must set out on a journey through space and time to bring them to a safe place. More time is spent on the adventure of travel than on the dragons, but the characters are engaging and clearly set up for more books in the series. This is a great book for readers who may not have seen themselves reflected in fantasy before. The core of the story is one that resonates with me – “Magic will find you if you believe.”