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Picture Books by Author-Illustrator Cozbi Cabrera

February 20, 2024

Cozbi Cabrera is an award-winning author & illustrator from Brooklyn, New York. She paints breathtaking illustrations with acrylics, and also makes vibrantly decorative handmade dolls. My first encounter with Cabrera's work was reading Me & Mama a couple of years ago, and it brought tears to my eyes! After being blown away by the newest children's book illustrated by Cabrera (Chef Edna), I felt inspired to do a deep dive into the picture books she has written and illustrated. Keep reading to be swept away and awe-struck by beauty!

Me & Mama

This brilliant picture book celebrates the bond between a mother and a daughter on a rainy day. From the moment the little girl wakes up, she is enveloped in her Mama's cinnamon-scented love. The two enjoy oatmeal together, get ready for a new day, and bundle up for a rainy walk with their dog. The little girl narrator shows us the different things that belong to her and her Mama. They each have their own tea cup (Mama's is fragile!), bowl, toothbrush, hair clip, and rain boots. In an interview with Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art, Cabrera recounts a story of when her daughter broke her favorite ceramic mug, which became the inspiration for Me & Mama. Cabrera perfectly captures the perspective of this child, writing from her perspective in such a poetic way. "My mouth gets sleepy first. The walls are dark except by the window, where the stars are hanging. I close my eyes and let the days spin me some pictures", she writes, as the little girl sinks into her bed for a good night's sleep. This book is so exquisitely written and illustrated, and evokes cozy days spent with my mom growing up. This outstanding book won Cabrera a Caldecott Award, as well as a Coretta Scott King Award in 2021.

My Hair is a Garden

Another beautiful story told from a child's perspective, My Hair is a Garden is about MacKenzie, a girl whose unruly hair has made her the target of bullying at school. After being taunted yet again, MacKenzie decides to stop by her charming neighbor, Miss Tillie's, house for some advice. Miss Tillie has long, shiny hair, a lovely blue house full of fragrant flowers, and a glorious garden out back. Miss Tillie welcomes her with open arms and listens to her hair troubles. She begins to show her how to properly care for her hair, but realizes that MacKenzie needs a bigger answer. 

The two walk outside and plop down on a bench in the garden, taking in all the sights and scents of her verdant glory. She tells MacKenzie the story of how she created her garden and overcame some disheartening obstacles. Miss Tillie challenges MacKenzie to wonder whether you can truly compare the beauty of two different plants. Gathering the lesson and how it parallels the discussion on beauty and hair, MacKenzie learns that her hair, too, is like a garden. It requires nourishment and care, and its beauty is unique. In the end pages, Cabrera has a whole guide for how to care for Black hair. This book is so gorgeous in so many ways. While this and Me & Mama are the only two books Cabrera has penned so far, they are both so poignant and close to my heart. I hope she continues to write and paint forever until the end of time!

Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade

This fascinating picture book biography about the poet Gwendolyn Brooks features wonderful painted illustrations from Cozbi Cabrera. I was so impressed to learn about Gwendolyn's love for writing that came to her at such a young age. Her story is one of inspired perseverance, and Slade captures this so well in the text! Upon my second or third read, I realized that the story itself is written in prose, with a very specific rhyme scheme and meter. It flows off the tongue so well. Cabrera's fabulous illustrations follow Gwendolyn Brooks from early childhood all the way into old age, and breathe so much life into her story. Each page features bold, playful colors and a real sense of dynamism. 


Chef Edna: Queen of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis by Melvina Noel

This children's book chronicles the life and career of Edna Lewis, a legendary Southern chef who brought Southern food and cooking to New York City. A lesser-known figure in African-American history, Edna Regina Lewis, was born in Freetown, Virginia, a community founded by freed slaves (including Edna's grandfather) and grew up on the farm. Her family farm was abundant with fresh vegetables, wild foods for foraging, and healthy livestock. Edna's mother, Mama Daisy, taught her everything there was to know about true Southern cooking, until she knew it all by heart. Cabrera illustrates these mouthwatering home-cooked delicacies, and you can almost feel the joy and the energy of Edna and Mama Daisy leap off of the pages. 

Edna leaves home at age fifteen, to begin working in the Big Apple. After both parents passed away, she had to work extra hard to support her five siblings. She began cleaning and cooking, and eventually became a sought-after seamstress. She designed and created colorful, bold pieces for herself and for famous movie stars! Homesick for her small-town Southern upbringing, Edna decided to start hosting dinner parties and catering events that showcased her signature Freetown flavors. Before long, she opened a restaurant in the Upper East Side of Manhattan! She went on to write four different cook books and co-founded the Society for the Revival and Preservation of Southern Food. This heartwarming read ends on a familiar note, with a grown-up Edna making the very same biscuits and cake she used to make with Mama Daisy. Cabrera's painted illustrations are incredibly detailed and expressive, and truly invite readers to step into the world of an accomplished Black chef!

Cozbi Cabrera continues to wow readers with her intricately painted illustrations, as well as her self-written stories of confident Black women. I am in awe of the sheer amount of heart that she has put into each and every piece she has created. Cabrera reminds us that children's books are not just for reading, but also for appreciating and for teaching. From elegantly-adorned picture book biographies to tender and personal stories, Cabrera's gifts for art and prose shine through each and every piece. I can't wait to see what this accomplished artist does next! I highly recommend this incredibly inspirational discussion between Cozbi Cabrera and our Nashville Reads 2024 featured author, Jason Reynolds!

Caroline Cronin


Caroline is a Bilingual Literacy Assistant for Bringing Books to Life! She is passionate about accessibility and language justice and loves to share stories and art with friends of all ages. In her free time she enjoys singing, cooking, teaching and practicing yoga, and roller skating.