Diverse Kids Books–Reviews

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Monthly Archives: July 2014

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman

cover for Amazing GraceGrace has a limitless imagination. Like many of the children who will read this story, she likes to dress up as any character she has ever seen or can imagine from spiders to pirates. When her teacher announces that the class is going to stage “Peter Pan”, Grace wants to play the lead role of Peter despite the fact that two of her classmates tell her she can’t play Peter because he is a boy and he’s white. Grace who lives with her single mother and grandmother goes home sad, and her mom and grandmother assure her that she can play Peter if she wants. Grace memorizes Peter Pan’s lines and Grandma even takes her to the ballet to see an Afro-Trinidadian friend of the family play Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet”. Grace wins the part of Peter and does an amazing job playing the role. Every child with an imagination will connect with Grace. Children of single mothers or parents who get tired but still make time to play will see themselves reflected in Grace’s family. My 3-year-old expected the story to continue so the fullness of the story arc will register more with readers instead of pre-literate children.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 6-9

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams

A chair for my mother coverWith the dedication to giving every single detail that is so commonly heard in a child’s story telling, Vera B. Williams spins a believable first person narrative in A Chair for My Mother . Rosa, the protagonist lives with her mother and her grandmother who have survived a fire and are saving their coins to buy a new chair because all their old furniture was “spoiled” in the fire. The day of the fire, Rosa got new sandals and her mother got new pumps; other details include the fact that one day, while helping out at her mother’s waitress job, Rosa peeled all the onions for the onion soup. Rosa, her mother, and grandmother take turns in the chair at the story before they buy it and take turns enjoying it once it is in their home. This is another Caldecott Honor book for Vera B. Williams. I like the consistency of the child’s voice, the cohesiveness of the family, support of the community that donates almost all the furniture for their new apartment, and colorful, emotionally balanced way that Williams deals with the sensitive issue of surviving a fire. At one point my interest did drift—I got a little bored but this goes hand in hand with the believability of Rosa’s voice. Children will often give you every single detail they can remember which can be challenging to entertain in real life as it was for me for two pages of the book. Vera B. Williams has written two other books in the Rosa series: Something Special For Me and Music, Music For Everyone. Rosa is a child whose first-person narrative story deserves a place in a child’s library.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 5-8

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

Mama, I’ll Give You the World by Roni Schotter

Cover of Mama I'll Give You the World“When Papa was around, Mama loved to dance, but Mama doesn’t dance anymore,” is the first line of Mama I’ll Give You the World and that semi-vague statement is all that is ever said about the absent Papa that lives in the subtext of this children’s story. Perhaps he has passed away, maybe he has abandoned the family; either way, children being raised by single mothers with no father in their lives will feel like their family construct is reflected in Luisa and her mother’s family. Luisa’s mother wants to give Luisa the world that is “so big. So much more for you to know. So much more for you to see.” And that starts every day with Luisa doing her homework beneath a palm tree in the beauty salon and Luisa’s mother saving for Luisa’s college tuition. Doing homework looks exotic, Luisa’s working class world looks like a holiday getaway.
The text is accessible prose that brings the reader smoothly and easily into Luisa’s daily life with her mother in Walter’s World of Beauty– the beauty salon where her mother works. As is so often the case in real life, the salon where Luisa’s mother works is a community gathering place where Luisa’s extended family bonds. The story is a narrative of Luisa communicating with all the adults (hairdressers and clients in her mother’s hair salon) to organize a special gift for her mama—a secret gift that even surprises the reader. Luisa’s dedication to her mother culminates in a climax that made me cry as her daughter celebrates her mother’s birthday by connecting her mother to the past. In the midst of the celebration, the story subtlety introduces a new suitor who has been a trusted friend throughout the book.

Luisa is an observant, sensitive, intelligent character who loves her mom, communicates impressively, and with the realistic precociousness of a child, who while protected by many adults in her life, also lives with the worry about her mother’s happiness and past that overshadows their lives. The illustration is fanciful and engaging, telling the story of the loving community to which Luisa belongs.
Luisa’s world is diverse, filled with people of all races and may ethnicities. Although there are no Spanish words spoken, several of the characters bear Spanish names and the full range of physical features found amongst white, tan and moreno Latinos. Children whose families are from many parts of Latin America—whether the Spanish Caribbean, Central, or South America will feel reflected in the characters represented. Additionally, there are two male hair dressers working with Luisa’s mother—one of whom seems to be slightly effeminate so that without saying it directly, we see that Luisa lives in a diverse and all inclusive world.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

 

The Family Book by Todd Parr

cover for The Family Book by Todd ParrTodd Parr makes the idea of family a fun thing to read about in this book illustrated with crayon-colored people. The silly illustrations and simple statements give the reader a feeling of “family” meaning acceptance more than anything else. Using animals and people to represent the many different family structures in our society, this is an easy, sensory stimulating, colorful way to introduce or further conversation on family diversity with your children, especially small children.

Recommendation: Recommended; 2+
Reviewer:  Omilaju Miranda

Hairs & Pelitos by Sandra Cisneros

cover hairs-pelitosA very simple story told by a little girl who seeks comfort in her mother’s smell, embrace, and love. The first person narrative partially frames the oil painting illustrations with the English text at the top and the Spanish text at the bottom of the page. The protagonist enters the story through a discussion of her family’s different hair types. With uncommon descriptions of their hair as analogous to brooms, rosettes, and fur, she tells us of the diverse look and behavior (slippery, lazy, etc.) of her family members’ hair. Diversity is also found in the family through the illustration of each of them as a different color so that they are literally a rainbow family. The front and back covers of the book have educational lessons and crafts exercises for readers making this a hands on bilingual story of family love.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; ages 5+

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

 

If I Were Your Father by Margaret Park Bridges

If I were your fatherThis book is a feel good conversation between father and son as the son shares his unrealistic imagination of what an ideal father should be and his father entertains the son’s musings as they move through the mundane activities of their day. The illustrations do not always coincide with the dialogue which may be a little confusing for children under five but red print for the son and blue print for the father’s words make it incredibly easy to know who is speaking through out. No matter what your family construct, you’re going to love the repartee between parent and child in this book but with no mother present, this is definitely a book with which children, especially sons of single fathers will be able to connect and of course is a good way to introduce the idea that some families are led by a single father to the children in your life.

 

Recommendation: Recommended; Ages 4+

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

Adventure Annie goes to Kindergarten’ by Toni Buzeo

cover for Adventure Annie Goes to KindergartenAnnie Grace starts her day with her mom who helps her get ready and takes her to her first day of Kindergarten where Annie tries to create adventures for herself because, after all, Annie Grace is Adventure Annie. She gets into all sorts of trouble around the classroom and school as she single-mindedly tries to find an “adventure”. Eventually, the two quiet, obedient students who her teacher sends to get the milk for snack time get lost and Annie gets her adventure. Mr. Todd charges her with the task of going to find the “milk getters” who are lost. And sure enough, with the help of the walkie talkies that she packed in her adventure toolkit, she finds her classmates and the milk, and brings the wagon of milk back to the class. So, Annie the Adventurer gets to be a super heroine and in the end she is in her mom’s arms with a hug and a smile. Although the story was a little banal and repetitive, Adventure Annie is clearly being raised by a single mom and she’s having a rip-roaring time being herself.


Recommendation: Unenthusiastically Recommended; Ages: 4+
Book Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

All the Colors of the Earth by Sheila Hamanaka

cover for All the Colors of the EarthPoetically, the children of this book become the natural bounty of the earth, their skin color and hair textures compared to the beautiful colors of nature and hair compared to the textures of other living creatures.
With typical sentences/stanzas like,
“Children come in all the colors of the earth—
The roaring browns of bears and soaring eagles,
The whispering golds of late summer grasses,
And crackling russets of fallen leaves,”
a child is able to glean a confidence-inspiring insight into their physical look. This is a beautifully illustrated book that lives up to the lyrical poetry of its narrative. The illustrations go far beyond the normal representation of the human rainbow and, with very detailed rendering of facial characteristics, skin complexions and hair textures, the reader sees real differences in many, many different ethnic types. On the pages of this book, children of every ethnic heritage will find reflections of themselves enjoying life and the world around them. While every physical type of child is represented in ‘All the Colors of the Earth,’ only interracial families are represented, which I think is an exceptional and novel choice however disappointingly inconsistent with the universal inclusiveness of the other illustrations.


Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 3+
Book Review by Omilaju Miranda.

Jackie’s Gift by Sharon Robinson

cover for Jackie's Gift by Sharon RobinsonWhen Jackie Robinson bought his first house in Brooklyn, NY, some people in the neighborhood sent around a petition trying to keep him and his family out because they were black. It failed and upon moving in, the first friend Jackie Robinson made was a young Jewish fan, Steven Satlow. Steve comes over and helps the Robinson family decorate their Christmas Tree. When Robinson learns that the Satlows don’t have a Christmas tree, he thinks it is because they can’t afford one and buys them a huge Christmas tree. The Robinsons end up learning about a new religion and culture and both the Satlows and Robinsons demonstrate communicating with grace and appreciation in the face of misunderstanding. Ultimately, out of appreciation for Jackies gift, the Satlows chose to have a Christmas tree and a Menorah for Hannukah that year and the Robinsons learned that Jews don’t celebrate Christmas. Written by Jackie Robinson’s daughter, Sharon who writes in the afterword that the Satlows and Robinsons are still friends.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; ages 5+
Book Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

little blue and little yellow by Leo Lionni

cover for little blue and little yellowlittle blue and little yellow is a cute book with two ragged-edged dots as the protagonists. One dot is blue and one dot is yellow. They hug and become one green dot that plays throughout the day with other dot friends. Then they go home, first to blue dot’s home then to yellow dot’s home and the parents of both reject green dot because they don’t recognize their child in the green dot. When green dot cries, blue and yellow tears come out until “they are ALL tears”. We see a bunch of little blue dashes and a bunch of little yellow dashes then we see the individual yellow and blue dot again. As their original selves, blue dot and yellow dot go home and their parents rejoice by hugging them and then the other parents. When the yellow and blue parents hug each other, they see that they also turn green when they hug. The difference for the parents is they do not allow themselves to become one new green dot. Instead, they visit each other and go out to watch their children play again with part of their green union intact while on either side they are their blue and yellow selves. They are now a role model for little blue and little yellow who are, like their parents, walking around and playing in the same configuration, which is blue and yellow on the edges and green in the middle. They play with other dots of different colors, some of which are also blending together.

This book functions on multiple levels that children of increasing age groups up to adult will be able to discuss and analyze: 1. It teaches children about color combining to make new colors; 2. It teaches children that you can have fun as friends and be affectionate with people of different colors and if you marry you make a whole unique creation. 3. It teaches that you can combine in a relationship while also being yourself hence green in the middle of yellow and blue on the edges. 4. It teaches that when families become united through marriage, even the in-laws change into a new creation. 5. It also teaches that when parents don’t recognize their children because of the way they have changed in their new relationship, they often reject them and it isn’t until they once again recognize their children, perhaps in the arrival of grandchildren, that they accept their children and their children’s chosen relationship but only the most advanced readers will get number 5.

I found it thought provoking on a simple and complex level. It was age appropriate and sparked questions from my 3-year-old daughter while making me recognize it as criticism of exclusionary, familial rejection and prejudiced social practices as well as a critique of in-law relationships especially in cross cultural families.


Recommendation: Very Highly Recommended; Ages 3+
Book Review by Omilaju Miranda