From the first page of I Am Mixed, we enter the magical world of the twins, Nia and Jay—one where the frogs have top hats and butterflies land on little girls’ fingers; straws are made of licorice, grasshoppers are students alongside humans and of course, there are twins—boy and girl twins which in itself is magical—automatic friends who are the same (Mixed) while different (girl/boy, chocolate/vanilla) but have each other and you, the reader can be like them too! You are walking into a mystical fantasy land of wonder and amazement and all this sweet wonder is what makes up the mixed twins.
I love the way this book presents a world view of cultural combinations. When they are explaining difference they compare the girl’s hair with the hair of an East Asian classmate–the writers illustrating their dedication to really create something more expansive than a “black and white” world for the protagonists. I took umbrage with the fact that the girl twin looked like the mom and the boy twin looked like the dad but my 3-year-old didn’t care. She was just more attached to the boy twin who looks very similar to her.
As we went through this book I saw a lot of my daughter’s vanity express itself as she was very interested in everything about the boy’s look especially his hair and where he was on the page and then, she was interested in the mom’s clothes and the girl twin when the girl twin was dancing the Irish jig. My daughter is Black Irish so I found all of this to be very ironic but through my daughter’s experience of this book, I also got to see one aspect of the way this book allows a child to find themselves and their family on the page. There are so many cultures represented in this book that I could imagine a child with Sub-Saharan African, Caribbean, English, NorthAmerican, Cuban, Mexican, Haitian, or Chinese cultures in their home, all finding their relatable representation of themselves in these pages.
There was a definite planning of subtext through the illustration and my daughter engaged with the art work so she wasn’t just looking at kids cooking as an illustration of the “melting pot” line; she was looking at a pot of the world and we ended up talking about a globe and Chinese dragons in the middle of her asking a million questions about the brother twin. The greatest example of how captivating the world is that Beauvais and Jones create: by the time we got to “I am all things fine and fair and coarse and beautiful brown,” my daughter was reciting the text over and over again since the catchy rhythmic sentences are easy for a small child to memorize.
“I Am Mixed” has a message of belonging for the Mixed Heritage child but it is also good, imaginative, fun children’s literature. Although the main text only deals with one situation of the girl being questioned about her looks and no conflict over the phenotype of mixed identity, in the follow up pages, the authors discuss how the girl twin communicated with her questioning classmates as an example of how to answer challenges to one’s identity without getting angry.
At the end of the book, there is a straightforward explanation of what it is to be mixed. And, more exciting for the little ones: a hands on family tree and “all about me” bio activity for parents/teachers to engage in with the children. Yay! This book is so much fun; when you finish reading this book, you feel like, “it’s so much fun to be mixed, I wanna go there (i.e. to Nia and Jay’s mixed world) and for the kids, this book lets them think, ‘I’m all that sweet stuff. It’s so incredibly cool to be me and people like me are all over the world. Yeah!’ and I think that’s how every kid should feel about him/herself so we’re going to do the activity pages in pencil until she gets older, fill in the family tree and have fun with this book. If you’ve already given your Mixed Heritage child the language of their identity, this reinforces it with a fanciful adventure; if you haven’t given your child a language of identity, this is a great, fun way to give them a way to understand who they are and how to explain who they are to others because every child can understand being made of “all kinds of goodies…” After we finished reading, when I asked what she liked about the book, my daughter said “being girls, being mixed.” Totally cool, empowering book Ms. Beauvais and Mr. Jones.
Recommendation: Most Highly Recommended.
Book Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda