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Exploring the meanings of "home": Children’s lit recommendations from the Penn Libraries Community Engagement team

Posted on by Rosalie Jacobson

Home is a word with a simple definition but without a fixed or universal meaning. For many people, the word home brings to mind the comfort we feel when we’re with our friends and families, the experiences and memories of times we’ve felt most ourselves, or the feeling of ease and relief we experience when returning to a place we love and are loved. We can find a sense of home in the stories we tell and the books we read; thus, libraries can be homes for us all. Among other important projects, the Penn Libraries Community Engagement team works with public school libraries across Philadelphia in partnership with the West Philadelphia Alliance for Children to ensure all who visit can feel that sense of home we get when we hear and tell stories. 

To celebrate the end of the semester, we invited the wonderful University of Pennsylvania students from the Community Engagement team to tell us about books that feel like “home” to them. Some of these choices are from our Mirrors Collection, some are books students cherished in childhood, and all embody a careful and nuanced understanding of home for each student.  

Want to help us build library collections at our partner schools? Visit our site to purchase titles from our Books About Home list for school libraries across Philadelphia. Mail your selections to: 

Gina Pambianchi
Penn Libraries Community Engagement
Van Pelt Library Office 528
3420 Walnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104 


You're a Genius, Blackboard Bear by Martha Alexander
“Be careful now. Don't bump into any stars.”
In this story, a boy named Anthony makes friends with a black bear drawn on his chalkboard. They make a spaceship to travel to the moon together, but Blackboard Bear ends up going alone and Anthony stays behind. In the end, Blackboard Bear returns and leaves a star on Anthony's bed while he's sleeping. This book reminds me of home because when I was a kid, my mom had to travel a lot for work, so I related to Anthony feeling sad when he was left behind. It helped me remember that while people might have to come and go, their love still stays.


我不是完美小孩: My Little Perfect World by Jimmy Liao (Direct Translation: I Am Not a Perfect Kid) 
我不能演公主,公主太完美了我受不了。 ("I can’t play the princess. The princess is perfect. I can’t stand it.")
Growing up, I constantly felt a lot of pressure from my parents to be perfect. When I left to study abroad, I gave them this book out of anger to communicate that frustration. However, looking back on my life at home, I realize that I actually had a "perfect little world." The imperfect little me matched my parents’ imperfect attempt at being my parents. Being far from them has helped me understand how their support and love created and nurtured my small but perfect world. 


Eyes that Kiss in the Corner by Joanna Ho and Dung Ho
"Mei-Mei's eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea blink against the window until I come home from school."
When I think of home, I think of my younger sister Bethany, who has grown up right in front of my eyes. Growing up, I remember getting bullied for my Asian eyes and wishing that I was “normal” just like everybody else. Now that I am older, I am glad that my wish was never answered. Just like the characters in Joanna and Dung Ho’s book, I hope that younger Asian children like my sister can find the beauty in who they are naturally.


The Little Things: A Story About Acts of Kindness by Christian Trimmer and Kaylani Juanita
“What’s the point? You won’t be able to save them all.” “Of course I can’t save them all…But I saved that one didn’t I?”
This warm and comforting book is one of the many gems in our Mirrors Collection. Maybe this book doesn’t feel like ‘home’ in any traditional sense, but it inspires me to create the sort of home I would want to live in: one filled with kindness. It’s a reminder that doing a little will always be better than doing nothing, and that it is never too late to start making a difference.


Monsoon Afternoon by Kashmira Seth and Yoshiko Jaeggi
"I tried to imagine Dadaji swinging on the banyan tree. I tried to imagine him as small as me, sitting on his Dadaji's shoulder."
Monsoon Afternoon depicts the South Asian monsoon season with vivid illustrations. The relationship between the little boy and his grandfather reminds me of my own carefree childhood in Bangladesh with my grandmother. Her vibrant stories, combined with her kind, gentle smile, provided me with a lovely respite from the rainy turmoil of the day and implanted in me a lifetime worth of courage and wisdom that I wouldn't have found anywhere else.


Jayden’s Impossible Garden by Mélina Mangal and Ken Daley
“There is no nature here in the middle of the city.”
I think I got my love of nature from my mom. In Jayden’s Impossible Garden, the title character seeks out the natural world while growing up in a cosmopolitan city. I had to do the same while growing up in Lagos, where my mom and I were always seeking out natural places. With the help of others, I even grew a garden in my mom's work center. The experience of creating my own magical garden is something I will always treasure. We created an oasis in Lagos, adding more green space to our city.


Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale by John Steptoe
"Just look at what lies before us. I never in all my life dreamed there could be anything so beautiful!"
This book carries a comforting feeling of nostalgia for me because, throughout my childhood, it was always sitting on my family’s dining table or next to my bed. As a kid, I would reread it with my parents, listening eagerly and absorbing the words from the enchanting story. It talks about being kind no matter any obstacle you encounter; I was taught to follow that then and still do now.


Black is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy and Ekua Holmes
“Black are the branches that carry my name: weaving, wrapping, lifting, laughing, hoping, grasping, quiet, strong.”
For me, the vast, intransigent beauty of the Black community imagined throughout Black is a Rainbow Color is home. Within its pages, I’m struck with decadent and cherished memories of family and community filled with relentless love and courage. It also invokes memories of my own path of self-discovery, through which I affirmed that Black is beautiful. From its imagery to its poetic rhyme and rhythm, Black is a Rainbow Color is nostalgia to a tee.


The Happiest Tree by Uma Krishnaswami and Ruth Jeyaveeran
“Through it all Meena took deep breaths and let them out.”
This book reminds me of my mom, who always asks me to remain strong during the toughest times of my life. It brings me a sense of security and calm and assures me that everything will be all right at the end of the day. No matter what the challenge is, I got this!


The Most Beautiful Thing by Kao Kalia Yang and Khoa Le
"Even now, I can still see my grandma's single tooth, white against the shadows, standing tall in her open mouth. Her smile was the most beautiful thing." 
Even though my family is not Hmong, reading this book was a nostalgic experience for me. I saw my relationship with my own grandmother, Mama, mirrored in Kalia's caring interactions with her grandmother. Listening to Kalia’s grandmother talk about her upbringing reminded me of the stories Mama would tell me about her life in Vietnam whenever my siblings and I spent the weekend at her house, often while handing me a bowl of freshly cut mangos. Hopefully next time I'm over, I can share this beautiful story with her. Joi sia, thank you, Mama.