Every so often, there is a children’s book author who connects with cultures so deeply that their stories simultaneously educate and entertain. Karen Lynn Williams is one such author whose global travels and educational background have led her to create important and memorable stories for young readers.
Spirit of the Cheetah is a story that Karen Lynn Williams co-authored with Khadra Mohammed, a woman whose family had to leave Somalia the year she was born. Though she is forbidden to visit her homeland, Khadra’s profound feelings of connection are palpable in this story about a Somali boy named Roblay who is on his way to becoming a man. As he learns important lessons about himself and the power of patience, Roblay connects deeply to his surroundings. Beautifully detailed images tell Roblay’s story, and readers will gain respect for the cheetah and learn how thinking outside of oneself can lead to internal reflection. Please see my full review here.
Facing Fear is written for an older elementary school-aged audience, incorporating lots of dialogue and an account of a dramatic and dangerous border crossing. Enrique loves playing soccer, and he is thrilled when his team qualifies for the upcoming tournament. He becomes angry and frustrated when his father refuses to sign the permission slip for him to participate, specifically because it will involve crossing a checkpoint. When circumstances lead to Enrique’s family hiding out at his tia’s house temporarily, Enrique learns the truth of his past and the deep courage it required to bring his family to the United States and a better life. Please see my full review here.
A Thousand White Butterflies is geared more toward a younger elementary school aged audience because of its short sentences and limited word choice. This is the story of Isabella, a young girl from Colombia who has moved with her mother to the United States for a better life. When a snow day cancels her first day of school, she is disappointed that she has to wait one more day to make new friends. But with the snow comes adventure, and Isabella bravely connects with a friendly neighbor who changes her day for the better. Co-authored with Jessica Betancourt-Perez, this story is inspired by events from Jessica’s own life, connecting readers to an inspirational tale of resilience and hope. Please see my full review here.
One of the things I love most about Karen Lynn Williams’ books is how they connect readers to very real struggles faced by people from around the world. By incorporating language and cultural references into each story, readers of all backgrounds are able to empathize with others on a deeper level. Notably, non-English words and phrases are intrinsic to every narrative, defined by context and not italicized like in many books of this type. I appreciate that this prevents non-English words from feeling “other” in any way because it adds to the rich tapestry of our global community.
Each of these three books includes back matter that enhances readers’ understanding of the concepts presented in the stories. Authors’ notes give readers a glimpse into the unique experiences that have led to the creation of each story, while additional information in the form of notes, glossaries, and recommended reading increase comprehension and global awareness.
From the covers to the endpapers to the primary story, each of Karen Lynn Williams’ many works is thoughtfully crafted and presented. Representing myriad backgrounds and stories, these are dynamic and important additions to elementary school libraries as young readers expand their awareness to the wider world and the experiences it contains. I am thrilled to recommend these stories, and I hope you are able to get your hands on copies of them to share with your families and students.
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