Do you know the Lola books by Anna McQuinn? Or her newer series about Lola’s little brother, Leo? We first discovered Lola a handful of years ago, when I was trying to diversify our bookshelves. She’s such a delight that over the years, we’ve added 4 Lola books to our permanent home library and often check others out from our local public library. I must admit, though, that I didn’t even know McQuinn had done a few books featuring Leo until I was prepping for this post and noticed them in our library catalogue! Read on to hear all about Lola, Leo, and their charming books.
Okay, let’s start at the very surface — these are wonderful picture book series that not only feature humans as the main characters, but that highlight underrepresented humans as the main characters! According to School Library Journal, of children’s books published in 2018, 50% depicted white characters, 27% animal/other characters, and only 10% featured African or African American characters (and the numbers for other minorities were even worse, and skew even farther, when only looking at picture books). Anna McQuinn, Rosalind Beardshaw, and Ruth Hearson, thank you for giving us not only one book with lovable, diverse role models, but whole series devoted to these people!
Now for the books themselves. We started our Lola collection with Lola at the Library, because, well, we love the library! It was such a delightful way to raise excitement about visiting the library that I added two other titles to my book wish list, and soon enough Lola Loves Stories and Lola Reads to Leo became household favorites. While our six-and-a-half-year-old no longer has quite the attraction for Lola that she once did, our four-year-old still carries a pretty strong obsession! So, when I spotted Lola Gets a Cat on the sale shelf of our local children’s bookstore just before her birthday, I figured we could add that to the collection too (Lola and a cat was bound to be a winning combination with our younger!). She also loves to check out Lola Goes to School and Lola Plants a Garden from the library.
So what makes these books wonderful? Lola is a kind girl who loves things we hope all of our own children will love — libraries, stories, her little bother, plants, school, and more! The text of the books is complex enough that toddlers and preschoolers recognize that these stories are a step up from board books, yet it’s simple and short enough that they’re not likely to lose interest during the story. Lola and her family embody relationships I hope to see in my own house, with caring siblings and involved parents (many of the books feature Lola and/or Leo and their father, another underrepresented character in children’s books…). Beardshaw’s acrylic illustrations are accessible, friendly, and diverse beyond just Lola’s family… In short, you can’t help but love Lola and her stories!
When we read two of the Leo books this week (Leo Can Swim and Leo Gets a Checkup), our younger declared that she loved them just as much as her beloved Lola books! That review by itself should suffice… But, I appreciated that the Leo stories, much like Daniel Tiger, helped introduce children to situations that may be new and scary, allowing them to enter these new circumstances with a little more familiarity and comfort than they may have had otherwise.
***International followers may recognize these book characters as Zeki and Lulu!
So, what picture book series do your children love? When thinking through our favorites, I’ve noticed that very few of our favorite picture book series feature human characters. Elephants, pigs, bears, frogs, toads, mice, and even a crocodile seem to dominate the series that my girls have known and loved over the years… Am I missing other delightful picture book series that have actual human characters?