Many of us with foreign or (to Americans) impossible-to-pronounce names will relate to Yuriko’s conflicts in The Favorite Daughter—people make fun of and butcher her name so she wants an Americanized one without cultural or linguistic baggage. There’s also an additional layer of complexity to Yuriko’s identity—she’s mixed (there are two photographs of the real Yuriko in the book: she has blonde hair and Asian facial features). In addition, since the book begins with “Yuriko came to stay with her father on Thursday that week,” this may be a divorced family as well. Allen Say navigates all of these complexities with grace, subtlety, humor, and most of all, love.
Yuriko is upset that her classmates tease her after she shares a baby picture at school, and the new art teacher mispronounces her name. At home, she tells her Japanese father she wants an American name, “Michelle”. He goes along with it, saying “Michelle” is his new daughter, even introducing her as such to the owner of a Japanese restaurant. When she acquiesces to letting the owner call her Yuriko, he gives her a bundle of disposable chopsticks as a gift.
That weekend Yuriko and her father go to San Francisco because she has to draw the Golden Gate Bridge for the new art teacher. But first, her father takes her on a “real quick trip” to “Japan.” They visit a Japanese garden and a Japanese ink painting master gifts her with a painting of a lily, as Yuriko means “child of the lily” (a nod to a Caucasian mother?). He writes her name in Japanese, and Yuriko says, “I’m going to learn to write it.” Unfortunately, by the time Yuriko sees the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s covered with thick fog. She sulks, thinking her art project is doomed.
But things work out: Monday morning Yuriko returns to school owning her name/identity as well as a creative piece called “the Golden Gate in the fog” (disposable chopsticks and cotton). She signs the project Yuriko, not Michelle, to which her father responds, “That’s my favorite daughter!”
Recommendation: Highly Recommended. 4-8 years.
Reviewer: Yu-Han Chao.
Friday September 12
PAJAMA READING PARTY.
ALL ARE WELCOME
Come one, come all to a beautiful evening where authors Garcelle Beauvais and Sebastian A. Jones will read to you and your kids their two books from the I Am Book Series, I AM MIXED and I AM LIVING IN 2 HOMES. Get your copies signed. Take a pic. You never know who will show up.
Follow @Diversekidreads Authors of I Am Living in 2 Homes and I Am Mixed, Sebastian A. Jones and Garcelle Beauvais thanked the founder of Mixed Diversity Reads Children’s Book Review, Omilaju Miranda, amongst other contributors and mixed and multiracial community advocates on the gratitude page of I Am Living in 2 Homes. Pre-book sales of I Am Living in 2 Homes started in June and August 19, 2014 was the release date for the book, which features fraternal twins of mixed heritage, working through the joys and sorrows of life in the aftermath of their parents’ divorce. Read our review and buy the title for your kids.
Heartbreaking, historically informative, and beautifully illustrated, Always An Olivia:A Remarkable Family History is the true family history of scholar and author, Olivia Herron (Nappy Hair) whose family has preserved their Jewish traditions even seven generations removed from the family’s Jewish matriarch. While the story is being told to a granddaughter in 2007 by her great-grandmother, the narrative actually tells the story of their ancestor Sarah who, hundreds of years ago, was the Italian Jewish granddaughter of victims of Jewish pogroms in Spain and Portugal. She is captured by pirates to be ransomed off but saved by another captive with whom she falls in love and sails to the USA to avoid recapture, death or the burning of the homes and businesses of the Jews to whom she was supposed to be ransomed. Still afraid of anti-Jewish violence, Sarah adopts the middle name Olivia instead of using her given middle name, Shulamit.
In the U.S., customs settles Sarah and her husband on the Georgia Islands in the free, black African Geechee community. Sarah and her husband have children and their children marry Geechees. Their descendants continue to practice the Jewish rituals that Sarah remembered (because, the text lets us know, she forgot many) including lighting the Shabbat candles on Friday nights. The women are the keepers of the tradition from being in charge of lighting the Shabbat candles to the legacy of naming a daughter of each generation Olivia or, as Sarah requested, a name that means “peace”. They choose to preserve the original name by naming a girl in each generation “Olivia” after Sarah.
From the opening line in which the girl child Carol Olivia asks her great-grandmother about black U.S.American slavery and is told that her family experienced enslavement in Egypt, witnessed U.S.American chattel slavery, but was not descended from enslaved black U.S.Americans, this biography is an eye opening account of the different histories of blacks and mixed racial heritage people in the U.S. since the 16th century.
Despite the book’s engagement of the heavy subject matter of slavery, racial and religious persecution, kidnapping, family separation, and near identity loss, there is a hopeful tone in the reading, achieved through James Tugeau’s use of light in his dramatic pastel illustrations, the tone of the narrative, and narrative breaks in the relaying of violence to fully describe life in peaceful times. Thus, this story of a resilient family communicates the necessity of remembering family history. Always an Olivia makes it clear that despite their family history of terror, renewal, survival and reinvention, the family of Olivias is proud of, and takes comfort in, their family traditions and heritage.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 8-Adult (buy)
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda
The pastel drawings of I Am a Ballerina are soft and subtle, and the story straightforward and sweet. Not overly pink and frilly, and not going too deep below the surface of a little girl exploring a new passion, this book would be a great read for children considering a new sport or interest.
After watching a ballet performance on her birthday, little Molly decides that she is a ballerina. At first her parents’ response to her leaping around the house in imitation of the gazelle-like picture of a ballerina on her wall is, “Jump down, dear.” When she smears her face with baby-blue eyeshadow and rouge, announcing herself as beautiful as a ballerina, her mother tells her to, “Go wash your face, dear.” Finally, after she nearly knocks some things over, her father concedes: “If you’re going to be a ballerina, maybe you should take some lessons.”
At Madame Cherie’s ballet school, Molly falls and trips, but it’s all part of learning. She practices and practices, and finally dons a merry-go-round horse costume for the ballet performance. The moment at the end of the book that Molly truly feels like she is a ballerina, however, is when her father lifts airplane-style: “It felt like flying. And then I knew…I am a ballerina.”
As seen in some “diverse” children’s books, the author plays it safe, saying nothing about ethnicity or appearance, even though the illustrator makes a point of creating a distinctly mixed family. Molly’s father is Caucasian or mixed, with curly brown hair and a bushy moustache, whereas her mother is Asian-featured. In this case, however, since it’s a nice ballet story that’s realistic and not overly pink and filled with tutus, I don’t mind that Asian-looking Molly isn’t identified ethnically or culturally (for all we know, her father is her stepfather, or she’s adopted).
Recommendation: Recommended: 4-6 years
Reviewer: Yu-Han Chao
Rosemary Wells’s Yoko Writes Her Name, a contemporary fable about linguistic difference, shows what kindergarten might be like for an ELL (English Language Learner) kitten or child. Through this book a child might learn some good lessons about diversity, forgiveness, and acceptance. Little gray tabby Yoko speaks and reads out loud in English, but writes in Japanese, and that is how the whole story and conflict begins.
The first time the teacher asks everyone to write their names, Yoko writes hers in Japanese, and the teacher acknowledges “How beautifully Yoko writes in Japanese,” but two other kittens in kindergarten whisper, “Yoko can’t write. She is only scribbling!” “She won’t graduate from kindergarten!” Things get worse when the teacher invites Yoko to bring a book from home to read to the class and she reads it from right to left, not left to right. “Yoko is only pretending to read!” “She’ll never make it to first grade!” the mean kittens say.
Yoko feels forlorn and dejected until a gray mouse seeks her out and admires her “secret language.” She teaches him how to write out numbers in Japanese, and soon all the little animals want to write their names in Japanese. On parent’s night, Yoko’s mother brings in a big Japanese alphabet and the teacher declares that Japanese will be the class’s second language.
Soon Japanese is everywhere in the classroom, and all the little animals, with the exception of the two mean kittens, learn to write their names in Japanese. On graduation day, the class writes their names in two languages on their diploma, but the two mean kittens hide in the closet, worried they won’t graduate. Yoko finds them and teaches them to write their names in Japanese—just in time to join the graduation march.
While this book makes Japanese seem easier to learn than it might be for a kindergarten teacher and her class, it’s a nice ideal of how such a conflict would be resolved in a fantasy world. The illustrations are adorable, and in the top corners of facing pages the author/illustrator provides a small picture of things like a cup or a dog, and its corresponding page is the Japanese translation. You or your child probably won’t pick up Japanese from this book if you don’t already read and speak it a little, but this is the kind of multicultural text schools and libraries should have to celebrate diversity and inclusion.
Recommendation: Recommended: 3-6 years
Reviewer: Yu-Han Chao
Concisely written, Karla Kushkin’s I Am Me is a biracial little girl’s declaration of pride in both the physical characteristics that connect her to the people in her family as well as her self-pride in her individuality. She is a mixture of various characteristics of her father, her mother, and their respective families. Although the race or ethnicity of her father is not clear, he is a man of color, while her mother is Caucasian. With tawny skin and dark hair like her father and light green eyes like her mother, she is an apparent blend of two distinctly different ethnicities. Dyanna Wolcott’s illustrations emphasize the physical contrast between the two families (and the differences between the little girl and her parents) as they mingle together on an outing at the park filled with swimming, bike-riding, and a picnic. The text and illustrations are rendered in a manner that mimics a child’s innocent observations and the playfulness of the narrative and images makes this book visually and audibly attractive and relatable to a younger audience.
Recommendation: recommended ages 3+
Reviewer: LaTonya Jackson
With sophisticated literary conventions, Rigoberto Gonzalez tells this bilingual story of personal growth targeted to experienced young readers. Antonio is an elementary student of Mexican heritage, born in the United States, who loves to spell and read with his mom and his mom’s partner, Leslie. These facts are all revealed slowly as the narrative unfolds. The narrative’s primary concern is establishing the relationship of a son’s love for his stepmother and the emotional quandary a son experiences when he is embarrassed by the parent he loves because of the way his peers respond to her. The fact that he has two moms is not an issue in the book. The fact that his father is absent from his daily life is revealed as a part of a scene discussing him reading with Leslie about Guadalajara, Mexico, “where Antonio’s grandparents live. His father went to live there, too, many years ago, when Antonio was just a baby.” His world is presented as normative; in fact the illustrations are of a student population at his school, that is predominantly Latino including a Latina teacher, and all except one of the children who are not Latino, are children of color.
Parents and grandparents of the children in this book represent a full range of ages, ethnicities and religious backgrounds. The sentence, “Parents of all shapes and sizes come to greet their children” cues us in to notice the differences amongst these families. We see the racial and gender differences amongst the parents and the children they are greeting easily. On a double take we notice that Leslie, Antonio’s stepmother is taller than the other adults, which seems to be the biggest difference between her and the other adults that Antonio notices, while the other children jeer about her because she “looks like a guy,” and has paint all over her from her work in the art studio, which stimulates them to belittle her as looking “like a box of crayons exploded all over her.” In response, Antonio pulls Leslie away and, despite the fact that he enjoys his time with Leslie after school every day, he asks if he can walk home by himself in the future.
This book feels sad. This is because of the tone set by the illustrations, which convey a persistent sense of yearning and longing in the eyes of almost all the characters. No one ever smiles fully, except in the family drawing Antonio makes of him and his two moms for his mother’s day card. Even when a compromised smile appears on the face of a character, their eyes overshadow any reading of complete fulfillment or happiness with a sense of worry and reflection. Although this sentimentality within the illustrations is a powerful representation of the subtext of Antonio’s worry about ending up lonely if he separates from Leslie in response to his classmates’ teasing, that feeling of a void starts on the first page, despite the fact that the narrative is well paced and complex, without being overwhelming.
While the teasing of the children seems like a mere catalyst for Antonio’s rediscovering and affirming his bond with Leslie, the imagery of the story is as weighty as the emotional milieu created by E.B. Lewis’ illustrations in Jacqueline Woodson’s Each Kindness, a book which was only about the refusal of children to befriend a new student. In Antonio’s Card/La Tarjeta de Antonio, the illustrations allude to what is unspoken in the text—a sentiment of something missing in the lives of these characters who seem to be smiling through emotional pain. Perhaps this is meant to convey the way that Antonio sees his world as one in which no one ever fully smiles and this is the way the illustrator is allowing emotions regarding the absent father who went back to Mexico to influence the text, since the author doesn’t give voice to Antonio’s feelings about his father being gone. What is clear by the end of the story is that one of the things which shames Antonio—Leslie’s splattered paint overalls— becomes evidence of Leslie’s bond with Antonio and his mother—a portrait of his mother that Leslie has painted as a Mother’s Day present. When Antonio sees the painting, his viewing of it becomes the turning point in Antonio’s journey towards family acceptance in face of the adversity of verbal teasing.
There are some who would categorize this story in the anti-bullying category of their collection and while I wouldn’t, the text and illustrations’ depthful representations of a child’s emotional vulnerability to teasing in general and especially in regards to their loved ones, makes this a story that can easily demonstrate how much words hurt in a curriculum on bullying and compassion. But, without a guide, children will easily understand Antonio’s sensitivity toward his stepmom and his peers in this story whose natural complexity and convincing narrative make it well worth its status as a Lambda Literary Finalist. (buy)
Recommendation: Highly recommended; ages 7+
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda
Education & Empathy; Thong’s Round Is A Tortilla & Green Is A Chile Pepper and the Importance of Diversity in Toddler Literacy
One thing that’s most lovely about books directed at very young children is their ability to invite and include. The books Round is a Tortilla and Green is a Chile Pepper by Roseanne Greenfield Thong are musical and colorful representations of the Mexican-American subculture.
The inclusion of subcultures and images which portray children of color is so immensely important to the development of empathy. Exposing very young children to stories where foods, colors, cultures, and concepts are dissimilar from what they see, allows them to see the world differently. In addition, finding comparisons is equally important. So, in these books, instead of something being round like a cookie, it’s round like a tortilla, or instead of green like the grass it’s green like a chile pepper. The shapes and colors are the familiar and the tortilla and chile pepper are the unfamiliar (unless you cook some spicey food!). In addition, if your child does happen to be part of the subculture represented, the mere presence of people who look (have brown skin, in the case of these stories) like your child reinforces their own sense of inclusion.
So, a little brown girl with a red flower reads a book while sitting on the sill of a square window. This story could be any children’s book, but that seemingly small adjective: brown, changes everything! It doesn’t alter reality, because in reality our county is made of complex color combinations and subcultures, but it alters the trend in children’s books. A book about shapes is important for skill-building and recognition; it helps reinforce terminology, language and develop synaptic pathways for your child, but oh! That brown, that little qualifier, brown: well, it encourages diversity, inclusion, empathy, it reinforces the representations of the self.
Finally, the minds of children are both absorbent and reflective. They can, like a sponge, retain all that’s around them while simultaneously finding themselves, and their place in that same space. Round like a Tortilla invites your child to consider shapes outside the normal concepts, it includes your child-of-color or a non-related subculture and it helps children absorb information while finding their own reflections. What more do you need in a toddler’s shape book?
Highly recommended for ages 0 – 4
Reviewer: Rachelle Linda Escamilla