Diverse Kids Books–Reviews

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Monthly Archives: December 2014

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Elan, Son of Two Peoples by Heidi Smith Hyde

cover Elan son of two peoplesElan, Son of Two Peoples by Heidi Smith Hyde and illustrated by Mikela Prevost is an artistically captivating and rustic story about thirteen-year-old Elan’s journey to becoming a man across the cultures of Judaism and the Acoma Pueblo. Set in 1898, Elan and his parents travel from their home in San Francisco to Albuquerque, New Mexico where his mother’s family lives. Elan’s father is a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe, and his mother is the granddaughter of a Pueblo Indian chief. The story takes place just days after Elan’s thirteenth birthday, a very important coming-of-age marker in both cultures. The reader does get a glimpse of his Bat Mitzvah and his Jewish culture, but a majority of the story focuses on Elan’s trip to New Mexico and the ceremony that honors him as a Pueblo tribesman. (more…)

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Flowers from Mariko by Rick Noguchi and Deneen Jenks

cover for Flowers for MarikoThis book, written by husband and wife team Rick Noguchi & Deneen Jenks, is a real gem. It tells the story of a young Japanese American girl, Mariko, and her family as they return to California after being imprisoned in American concentration camps (also known as internment camps or relocation centers; simply referred to as ‘Camp’ by Japanese Americans of that time) during World War II. An authors’ note provides additional context at the end of the book.

I found this book to be excellent in several ways. To begin with, the artwork of Michelle Reiko Kumata is a revelation. It is apparent that the illustrations were based on actual black-and-white photos from the 1940s, but Kumata’s pictures bring the story to life in beautiful full color. Drawn with bold outlines, her pictures are full of patterns and textures from period fabrics, shadowing that adds depth to every scene, and subtle, authentic details such as the furoshiki-wrapped bundle that one woman carries on her way to Camp. Though the story’s subject matter is far from uplifting, it was still a joy to gaze at every page of this book. (more…)

Dust of Eden–a novel in verse by Mariko Nagai.

cover Dust of EdenMariko Nagai’s Dust of Eden is a lovely, spare story told by a young Japanese American protagonist who goes by both her American name, Mina, as well as her Japanese name, Masako. This book is a series of images and scenes that tell how a young girl in the United States in the 1940s navigates being both Mina and Masako, both American and Japanese, both feeling at home and feeling alien.

The novel is a set of poems from Mina’s point of view interspersed with letters to and from her best friend in Seattle as well as short personal essays Mina writes for school. These lyric pieces are arranged chronologically and geographically, with the first poem of the book titled “Seattle, Washington October 1941,” and the last poem called “Epilogue December 1945.” In the span between, Mina details her life in Seattle right before Pearl Harbor (a life filled with her parents, grandfather, brother, best friend, and school), and she writes us through her father’s unjust imprisonment in Montana after Pearl Harbor and her family’s internment first in Washington and then in Idaho, ending with her brother volunteering to fight for the Allies and her family finally being allowed to return to their Seattle home after the war is over.

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A Kiss Means I Love You by Kathryn Madeline Allen

cover for A Kiss Means I Love YouIt’s as important for babies and toddlers to feel like their emotions are understood and validated as it is for them to learn how to express how they feel, whether it’s through body language or words. A Kiss Means I Love You, a picture book with photographs of diverse children and families in various emotional and physical states, does just this.

Ranging from a smile to coughs and sneezes, the formula of “a ___ means I’m ___” will help babies and toddlers expand their vocabulary for expressing themselves, and hopefully develop sympathy and empathy through seeing the different children in various moods and states in the book. Like Dr. Seuss’s My Many Colored Days, the simple words on each page may help a child feel their emotions validated and shared by others.

This book would be great for daycares, especially diverse ones—my daughter took it to school and the toddlers matched one another’s names to the children on the pages, seeing themselves in them. A Kiss Means I Love You makes a good bedtime story as well, ending with the familiar line (in a new order), “I love you…goodnight.”

Reviewer: Yu-Han Chao

Recommended: 2-5 years

Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj

cover Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood Varsha Bajaj’s novel, Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood presents the story of a bi-racial Indian-America girl who’s never met her father. She’s spent her life living in Houston, Texas with her mother being a happy, well-loved American girl who only knows one thing about her father: he is from India.

The story opens with Abby having an allergic reaction to coconut. After having to admit she knows nothing about the medical history of the father of her child, Abby’s mother realizes she needs to attempt to contact him, something she has not tried since she found out she was pregnant. After a very small window of waiting, she is finally able to contact her ex-boyfriend and as it turns out, he never received the registered letter she sent all those years ago explaining Abby’s existence. Abby not only has to deal with the shock that her father never knew about her—up until this point she believed he simply didn’t want to be a part of her life—but she also finds out he is a huge Bollywood star. The rest of the novel revolves around Abby traveling to Mumbai to meet her father and the other half of her ethnicity.

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Promise Me Something by Sara Kocek

cover Promise Me SomethingDue to unfortunate zoning laws, Reyna Fey becomes the new girl at school and misses her old life dearly. While at her old school she was not part of the most popular crowd, she did have a core group of friends who’d been BFFs most their lives. Reyna makes for a relatable teen character in that she has a lot of drama going on at home and school. Her mother was killed in a car accident 7 years ago and since then her father has been raising her by himself. But, his most recent girlfriend, Lucy, is becoming a permanent fixture in their household and Reyna is not coping well with that scenario. Reyna finds Lucy particularly intolerable because a few months prior to the beginning of the story, Lucy’s reckless driving caused a wreck that severely injured, and almost killed, Reyna’s dad.

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Love, Lizzie: Letters to a Military Mom written by Lisa Tucker McElroy

cover for Love, Lizzie Letters to a military mom Love, Lizzie: Letters to a Military Mom written by Lisa Tucker McElroy and Illustrated by Diane Paterson, tells a story written entirely in epistolary form in which nine-year-old Lizzy writes letters to her mother, who is deployed and fighting in a war overseas. In Love, Lizzy, Lizzy asks hard-hitting questions about patriotism and “how long does defending freedom take?” The reader follows Lizzy’s letters from June to May of the following year as Lizzy deals with missing her mother for holidays, her birthday, and school activities like Lizzy’s soccer tournament. Each letter feels personal to Lizzy’s character, but also resonates with the universal difficulties that any child missing a military parent would endure: the normalcy of their previous parent-child relationship changed into more complex feelings of uncertainty and anxiety over their parent’s safety.

Lizzy’s letters feel more intimate due to Paterson’s illustrations featuring pictures of Lizzy engaged in the activities of her daily life about which she is writing. There are also photos and doodles from Lizzy to her mother included in the letters that make Lizzy’s character more dynamic. The most interesting of these doodles are the maps that Lizzy draws, which start out small, showing the private space of her bedroom, and eventually grow broader and more global—until they feature the town, the United States, and a map of the entire globe. These illustrations make Lizzy’s story feel all the more personal by adding complexity to her character.

Love, Lizzy can be an important resource for any parent who is missing a loved one due to their military service. Not only is the story relevant to many American children, but the book also contains practical advice for military families whose children are dealing with the separation of a deployed parent.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended Ages 6-11

Reviewer: Erin Koehler

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