★★★★★ Alabama Oh, by Andi Cann and illustrated by Micaela Stéfano, is the second book in Cann’s “Explore Artists” series. The story follows a young African-American girl named Alabama (which means “plant-gatherer”) who enjoys drawing pictures of flowers and biking around town in brightly colored clothing. She keeps these drawings in her treehouse where she can enjoy them all year-round. At school, Alabama begins getting in trouble with her teacher, Mrs. Bowdeeko, who finds the free-spirited girl’s joyful attitude to be disrespectful. Alabama is forced to dress in grays and blacks, and refrain from expressing her happiness when she sees flowers outside. But one day, Alabama reaches a breaking point and runs out of the classroom. Her teacher chases her back to her treehouse and discovers all of the flower drawings hanging from the walls. Chastened, Mrs. Bowdeeko apologizes and lets Alabama hang up the drawings at school for everyone to enjoy.
Alabama Oh pays candy-hued homage to the kids all around the world who are asked to tone down their personalities because adults find them strange or distracting. The story is charming and relatable, and Stéfano’s art—rendered mostly in greens, and purples, and oranges—conveys Cann’s characters quite well. Not only will children take away important lessons from this book, but parents and teachers, too, will be encouraged to watch the way they interact with kids in the classroom and at home. A careless word can really harm a child’s creativity. The book also includes a list of female African-American artists in the backmatter, which is a great jumping off point for students interested in painting and drawing.