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Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel Passing tells the moving story of a young black woman who decides to pass for white, and the story ends with the woman falling or being pushed out of a window to her death. Heidi Durrow has said that Larsen, who, like Durrow, is half black and half Danish, is one of her literary heroes, and the mother of the main character in Durrow’s 2011 bestseller The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is named Nella. Durrow’s Nella has a daughter, Rachel, who is half Danish and half black, and it is this girl, Rachel, whose story is related in The Girl Who Fell from the Sky. Hers is a story that offers homage to Nella Larsen’s work, as well as bears witness to an actual story that Durrow read about, a recent true story of a mother who fell, or jumped, from the top of a building while holding her children; only a daughter survived. (more…)
Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Takes Off #WeNeedDiverseBooks #WeHaveDiverseBooks #DiverseKidsBooks #Magic #Hispanic #Latino #SingleMom
Real Life: Imagined
Freddie Ramos’s story is pretty common: Mom worked to get through community college in order to get a better job, Dad passed away while in the service; neighbors, friends, and teachers all make up the atmosphere for his ordinary life. But one day Freddie gets a box with a pair of purple shoes (which is great because now mom doesn’t have to buy any!) and these shoes give him ZAPATO POWER! So Freddie has the power to zip by in a flash of dust and smoke. How does he use his super powers? Where did the shoes come from? How will this saga continue? Keep reading… (more…)
Poems in the Attic by Nikki Grimes and Elizabeth Zunon #WeNeedDiverseBooks #WeHaveDiverseBooks #DiverseKidsBooks #Blackpoetry #MilitaryKid
Poems in the Attic is the picture book story of a seven-year-old African American girl who, during a visit to her grandmother’s attic, finds a box of poetry that her mother wrote as a child. Her mother’s poems are full with the yearning for an Air Force father who is often away and the wonder of discovering new places as the family moves again and again when her dad returns from deployments.
Nikki Grimes, the author makes several bold, creative choices in the telling of this story. The protagonist is never named and the story has a polyphonic poetic narrative voice. The protagonist’s mother’s voice comes through on the right side of the pages in the Tanka poems the protagonist is reading and the protagonist’s voice is represented on the left side of the pages in free verse poetry. (more…)
Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming, is memorable, and not only because it won the prestigious National Book Award in 2014, the 2015 NAACP Image award and is a 2015 Newberry Award Honor Book. At its roots, Brown Girl Dreaming feels distinctly American.
Woodson’s memoir speaks of a connection and separation with family as she reflects on her birth in Ohio, her early years in South Carolina, and her family’s move to New York City. Throughout the memoir she recalls the absence of her father, the strength of her grandparents’ love, and the disconnect of what makes a place “home” as she moves between the American North and South during the 1960s and 1970s.
Woodson’s narrative is linear: the book is organized into four parts and chronologically follows Woodson’s life from her birth to the later stages of her childhood. Told completely in poetic free verse, Woodson’s poetry is easily accessible, following more traditional modes of form and lineation. Each poem is powerful, yet they work cohesively to tell Woodson’s childhood stories of learning to love writing and herself.
Brown Girl Dreaming is not a story that will disappear lightly. Its themes are strikingly contemporary as Woodson’s young narrator lets the reader in on a journey that seeks to understand how race and faith shape a person’s childhood, family, and friendships. This book is one that walks quietly and affects deeply. In short: Brown Girl Dreaming is a book to return to, and a book that will continue to hold its head high for a long time.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended, Ages: 11+
Reviewed by Erin Koehler
As no father is ever mentioned or portrayed, Little Baby Buttercup and her mother seem to be a single parent family–a happy, adorable one. The rhymed lines by Linda Ashman and sweet illustrations by You Byun make this a pleasure to read: “Little Baby Buttercup, look how fast you’re growing up! Every day brings something new—lucky me, to be with you.”
From morning to evening, Baby Buttercup eats messily at her highchair, builds block towers, goes to the park, plays with a dog, hides from the rain, reads bedtime stories with Mommy, and (more…)
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.
Perfect 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…)
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