Diverse Kids Books–Reviews

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Monthly Archives: September 2014

A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream by Kristy Dempsey

cover A Dance Like StarlightA Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina’s Dream follows the aspirations of one little girl in Harlem in the 1950s. Told in lyrical prose, the reader learns that the unnamed African-American girl spends her afternoons dancing backstage at the dance school her mother works at. She spends her evenings wishing upon unseen New York stars for a dream most consider unthinkable during this era. Still, every single day she practices her pliés and chassés with fervor.

One day, her backstage routine catches the eye of the Ballet Master himself. He invites her to join in on a daily lesson with the white girls in the class (in the back row), although she’ll never be able to perform onstage with them. Since joining the class, she pushes herself harder to be the best ballerina she can be. And whenever she’s asked to demonstrate a movement for the whole class, the little girl thinks for a fleeting moment that even a “colored girl like me” could become a prima ballerina someday. (more…)

Jacob’s New Dress by Sarah and Ian Hoffman

cover for Jacob's New DressJacob’s New Dress is a touching, realistic tale of a little boy who is dealing with the fallout of being gender non-conforming. Written by parents of a “son who loves pink”, the story is educational without being didactic. Bright, playful illustrations animate a gentle description of conflict at school, which is resolved by caring parents and supportive friends.

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Roland Humphrey is Wearing a WHAT? by Eileen Kiernan-Johnson

Roland Humphrey is Wearing a WhatBright paper collage illustrations serve as a backdrop to Roland Humphrey is Wearing a WHAT?, the tale of a boy who likes to wear pink, sparkles and dresses to school. The story hinges on the relationship between Roland and two little girls at the bus stop who try unsuccessfully to educate him about the “color rules 4 boys.”

Roland blatantly violates these rules on a daily basis. Instead of “blues, browns and DARK purple,” Roland wears violet-striped shoes, a butterfly on his “manly green” shirt, and a sparkly blue barrette in his hair. (more…)

Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis

cover for Otherbound by Corinne DuyvisDuyvis’ Otherbound is a tour-de-force in complications. The story is told through dual narrators, Nolan and Amara. Nolan, a bilingual Hispanic teenager growing up in small town Arizona, has a crippling neurological disorder, masked as epilepsy. This disorder has already cost him one foot and incurred massive medical debt for his working class family. In the past, Nolan’s disorder even caused hallucinations whenever he blinked. He is constantly aware of the burden he unintentionally places on his family and struggles to connect with those around him, his disabilities impairing him both physically and mentally. Nolan is also doing his best to hide a secret: the hallucinations never stopped. Every time Nolan closes his eyes his mind is transported into the body of our second protagonist, Amara.

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Call for Submissions

kids_writingMDR, the ‘zine for children from Mixed Diversity Reads Children’s Book Review is seeking prose, poetry and illustrations featuring as protagonists children who fall into one of the seven categories of diversity to which the website is dedicated. The target publication date for the first issue is December 6th and submissions need to be sent no later than November 6th. Please see submissions guidelines here http://mixeddiversityreads.com/mdr-a-diversity-magazine-of-childrens-writing-and-art/mdr-submissions/

Perfect Lil Blends by Luke Whitehead

cover for Perfect Lil BlendsPerfect Lil Blends: A Reality Book that Celebrates the Diversity  of Multicultural Children  is like a series of love letters from parents to their children accompanied by their children’s portraits. Compiled by Luke Whitehead, the founder of Mixed Nation, this is a photo essay of children of mixed heritage from almost every racial, cultural, and ethnic background. Yes, most of these children are exceptionally beautiful however, similar to, but more personal than, Kip Fulbeck’s photo essay book Mixed, each photo of a child is accompanied by a description of the child’s life interests and a note of dedication from the parents to the child, making this more than a vanity book of portraits. (more…)

This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman

cover for This Day in JuneThis Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman is an easy way to introduce a child to the joy motivating people to celebrate in Pride Parades every year. Easy to follow, simple, two line rhymes in inconspicuous locations on the pages, which seem to overflow with vibrant illustrations, describe the many sights common in a Gay Pride Parade. Not a part of the sparse text, but present in the illustrations are many of the political messages that are commonly seen at a Gay Pride Parade. While the illustrations are fun, this isn’t like the books we normally review, which represent LGBT-parents leading a family. There are children in a few of the illustrations but most of the illustrations feature adults having parade fun, which means that in addition to images of people with rainbow colored hair, parade floats, flags and Carnivalesque costumes, there are illustrations of men without shirts and adults kissing. When I saw the images of bare chested men, bikini-top wearing marchers and adults kissing, I had a strong oppositional reaction to the idea of showing this to a child however reading the discussion guide in the back of the book helped me to see that a child looking at these illustrations would not read the same sexual context that I see, into these images. (more…)

When the Black Girl Sings by Bil Wright

cover for When a Black Girl SingsIf When the Black Girl Sings by Bil Wright was a dish served at a fancy restaurant it would be described as “adoption woes over a bed of teenage angst served with a side of parental problems and an empty glass of communication.” Doesn’t sound like a favorite dish you would order time after time, but it does fill a definite need on the menu.

The main character, Lahni, is a 13 year old black girl who was adopted by white, heterosexual parents when she was a baby. Living with white parents in Connecticut, Lahni attends a private school, with only a handful of non-white students. She feels completely out of place, alone and unable to connect with friends. Adding to her troubles, her parents are getting a divorce and her father has a new “friend”. Then her mother suggests they try going to church, where Lahni meets and befriends the choir director and the church’s soloist who are both black. She is coerced by her music teacher, who sees promise in her, into joining a singing competition at her school. Lahni joins her church choir to help her prepare for the competition and in the end finds her voice.

I found at many times in this book I was frustrated with Lahni and her parents mainly because they seemed to be hopeless at communicating honestly with one another and others around them. After a particularly upsetting incident at school where a classmate calls Lahni an “African baby on a television special” her mom says, “Maybe she meant it as a compliment.” Or when Lahni’s dad finds her waiting outside the door listening to her parents scream at one another, he simply takes his suitcase and gets into the taxi. Lahni, following the role models set out for her, never talks with her parents (or anyone) about how it feels to be a black child adopted by a white family or about the troubles she has as the only black girl in her grade. Lahni keeps her best friend at bay, only telling her about her parents impending divorce at the very end and then again shuts her friend down when she asks questions. Lahni’s struggle with communication does not end with her inability to share her thoughts, but it seems she is not able to garner messages others are telling her as well. Her music teacher and choir director clearly express on multiple occasions their admiration for her singing, yet even to the end Lahni refuses to have confidence in her ability. That said, the teenage years are not perfect. Transracial adoption is not always heart-to-heart chats and a warm cup of cocoa. And I am NOT a black, teenage girl being raised by struggling white parents, so perhaps I just don’t get it. And perhaps there is some reader in Lahni’s exact situation who will want to take Lahni into her heart because she is singing the reader’s song.

At one point in the story, Lahni is being stalked by a white boy in school who calls himself Onyx 1. This boy focuses his affection on Lahni purely based on his desire to date a black girl. Later he gets in a knife fight with two black boys and he calls them “two black apes”. When Lahni hears this, she is so confused about how a person can want to date someone who is black, nickname themselves “black” and then use racial slurs. In typical teenage style, although scared of Onyx 1, she chooses to handle it on her own. Lahni never mentions it to her parents or to another adult until the end of the book after she is forced in a deserted parking lot to confront him. I dislike the fact that the author had Lahni deal with this issue on her own. Obviously, in fiction the author managed the confrontation to work out in Lahni’s favor but in real life confronting a stalker is truly dangerous. I want the message to young adult readers to clearly state, “ask for help from an adult if this happens to you.” I did however like that the author kept Onyx 1’s character as undesirable and Lahni told him to get lost. Too many times, plots include the “good girl” falling for a “bad boy” when she discovers his soft side.

This book has a light Christian theme to it, but it is not overwhelming. In the beginning Lahni attends church for the first time and by the end she performs “His Eye is on the Sparrow” and realizes she is not singing but she is in fact praying.

Recommendation: This book is suitable for readers age 13+.

Reviewer: Amanda Setty

Donovan’s Big Day by Leslea Newman

cover Donovan's Big DayA close examination of the cover of Lesléa Newman’s Donovan’s Big Day — which features two, shiny gold rings dangling overhead — hints that the story involves a wedding. If you miss that cue, you’ll probably spend half of the book wondering just what Donovan’s “very BIG day” is all about. (Which could actually be a lot of fun for young readers!) But if you’re a fan of Newman’s work, you already know it’s not a “typical” wedding. Newman is one of a handful of authors who pens children’s books featuring same-gender parents and how their families are just like every other family out there. And Donovan’s family, as well as his big day, is no different. (more…)

Good Dream, Bad Dream by Juan Calle and Serena Valentino

cover for God Dream Bad DreamGood Dream, Bad Dream turns a traditional meet-your-fears-head-on storyline into a global bilingual adventure. This book is about a boy, named Julio, who can’t get to sleep because he’s afraid monsters will terrorize his dreams.  But his papa reassures him that every monster will meet its match when confronted with a bedtime superhero.

Every line of this children’s book features a different mythical hero from various cultures across the globe to fight a monster—a cunning companion for each devilish spirit, so to say. Grecian heroes defend the weak against Grecian monsters, African warriors fight African beasts, Mayan gods combat Mayan monsters, robots destroy evil aliens, and so on. To tell the tale, there’s even an accompanying bilingual Spanish translation to help teach young readers Spanish, or to make it easier for Spanish-speaking children to understand the storyline.

Seven talented artists came together to illustrate the vibrant, comic book stylized drawings in Good Dream, Bad Dream. The full-color pages offer visual cues into the characters of the various creatures and champions who make appearances in children’s’ minds all across the world. But on a negative note, those bright depictions may be too distracting for the child to clearly read the words on the page for themselves. So it would be best for the adult to read the story the first time, and to help the child follow along by trailing each sentence with their finger.

A former Kickstarter project, Good Dream, Bad Dream is available for purchase in October 2014.

Recommendation: Recommended (Just make sure you’re there to lend a hand if the child can’t make out the words on the distracting pages.) Ages 5-8.

Reviewer: Kaitlyn Wells