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The adage to “be yourself” has long been a staple in children’s lit, at least since 1959, when Dr. Seuss told readers, “There is no one alive who is youer than you!” Several recent books explore what it means specifically to be a boy and the shifting cultural norms that give children permission to be who they truly want to be.

In Julian is a Mermaid (Jessica Love, Candlewick Press, 40 pages, $22.99), a young boy riding the bus with his abuela (grandmother) becomes transfixed watching women in their shimmering costumes and lush headdresses (en route to the Coney Island Parade, perhaps?). The text is sparse, as much of the book follows Julian by himself, wondering how he can imitate their look. It’s an intimate story with lofty ambitions about radical self-acceptance.

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Both Pink is for Boys (Robb Pearlman and Eda Kaban, Running Press Kids, 40 pages, $23) and Sugar and Snails (Sarah Tsiang and Sonja Wimmer, Annick, 32 pages, $21.95) remix traditional assumptions about gender, encouraging readers to think critically about what they’ve been taught in a non-didactic way.

In the surprisingly silly Great Dog (David Cali and Miguel Tanco, Tundra, 46 pages, $21.99), a young pup wonders if he can follow in his ancestors’ formidable footsteps, not realizing their own stories have already been heavily rewritten.

And in I’m Sad (Michael Ian Black and Debbie Ridpath Ohi, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 40 pages, $21.99), the funny and tender-hearted follow-up to 2012’s I’m Bored, a girl, a potato and a flamingo learn that sometimes, the only way to cope with negative feelings is by giving yourself the time and space to fully feel them.

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Biology and art converge in The Golden Glow (Benjamin Flouw, Tundra Books, 48 pages, $21), a stylishly illustrated story first published in France last year. A dapper looking fox, for which obvious comparisons can be drawn to the Wes Anderson character, sets out to find a rare specimen to add to his plant collection. Along the way, various real species of trees, flowers and other plants are introduced, daring readers to try to finish the book without amassing an interest in the natural world.

A similar idea is executed quite differently in the self-explanatory What Do They Do With All That Poo? (Jane Kurtz and Allison Black, Beach Lane Books, 40 pages, $23.99), a sure-to-be-popular fact-filled investigation into how zoos deal with each animal’s unique droppings (did you know wombat poop is square-shaped?).

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Red Sky at Night (Elly MacKay, Tundra Books, 40 pages, $21.99) takes a more poetic approach to nature, reinterpreting old weather folklore passed down through sailors with MacKay’s awe-inspiring illustrations made from meticulous paper dioramas.

In a category of its own is Old Misery (James Sage and Russell Ayto, Kids Can Press, 40 pages, $18.99), although it owes an obvious aesthetic debt to Edward Gorey, mixed in with a folk-tale sensibility. This parable about why there will always be misery in the world is substantial enough to appeal to older picture-book readers, although the deeply eerie illustrations will reverberate with kids of all ages with morbid interests.

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