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A new crop of kids’ picture books inspired by women’s historical accomplishments

Women’s History Month in the United States might be over, but the lives of iconic women continue to serve as inspiration for modern stories. It’s hard to say how much interest a child might ordinarily have in the legacies of Regency author Jane Austen, journalist and activist Jane Jacobs and surrealist fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli. But these women serve as the subjects for Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen (Deborah Hopkinson and Qin Leng, Balzer + Bray, 40 pages, $22), Walking in the City with Jane (Susan Hughes and Valérie Boivin, Kids Can Press, 36 pages , $20) and Bloom (Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad, Tundra, 40 pages , $21) respectively, and the authors do well to find the timeless aspects of their lives while introducing the historical contexts of the rest. Also out is Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History (Vashti Harrison, Little Brown Books , 96 pages , $22.50), featuring an impressive illustrated introduction to 40 figures such as abolitionist Sojourner Truth and mathematician Katherine Johnson (of Hidden Figures fame).

Jane Jacobs-style community organizing comes up in Dr. Coo and the Pigeon Protest (by Globe and Mail contributor Sarah Hampson and Kass Reich, Kids Can Press, 32 pages, $19), in which the unlikely dissenters are pigeons who are fed up with the way they are constantly disrespected by the human dwellers of the city, and remember the noble days during which they served as message carriers. It’s a book hinged on a simple yet absurd concept that thrives in children’s books, and that can also be seen in The Snuggly (Glen Huser and Milan Pavlovic, Groundwood, 32 pages, $17), a slapstick story about a boy who sees how many items he can fit in his little sister’s baby carrier.

Many sombre books have been written in an attempt to explain the concept of death to children, but few have done so as creatively and playfully as The Funeral (Matt James, Groundwood, 40 pages, $19). Norma hasn’t quite grasped what it means that her great-uncle Frank has passed away. Instead, she sees his funeral as a chance to take a day off school and see her favourite cousin (the title on the cover cheekily puts the word “FUN” in different colours). It’s an unexpected but realistic take on the simple ways in which kids process serious events around them. Another standout is Islandborn (Junot Diaz and Leo Espinosa, Dial Books for Young Readers, 48 pages, $24), in which the Pulitzer Prize-winning author makes his first foray into children’s books with this story about a girl named Lola who tries to remember the country she left as a baby, referred to simply as The Island. Diaz mythologizes both the dreamy and complicated histories of the Dominican Republic through the eyes of a child wondering what it means to truly belong to a place.

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