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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…)
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…)
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
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