Diverse Kids Books–Reviews

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Calling the Doves By Juan Felipe Herrera

cover Calling the DovesCalifornia poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera shares the story of his migrant farmworker childhood through powerful language and colorful illustrations (by Elly Simmons) in Calling the Doves.

Not once is Juan negative about his humble beginnings; he fills these pages with love and poetry. Born on the road to migrant worker parents in central California, Juan grew up in a one-room house his father built on top of an abandoned car he describes as “a short loaf of bread on wheels.” His father makes bird calls that attract doves and his mother recites poetry at dinner, all of this inspiring him: “I would let my voice fly the way my mother recited poems, the way my father called the doves.”

While the language is always evocative, one particular metaphor may confuse readers. All other metaphors work beautifully, for instance, he describes a green canvas as “a giant tortilla dipped in green tomato sauce,” and ”the wolves were the mountain singers.” However, when describing his family eating outdoors, “the sky was my blue spoon, the wavy clay of the land was my plate” may be taken literally by children (and some adults) who might have trouble making sense of these lines.

Besides that instance, this lyrical story accompanied by striking illustrations tell a story rarely seen in children’s literature, from immigration to migration according to the seasons of melon, lettuce, and grapes, to traditional healing arts. A wonderful celebration of migrant and Mexican-American culture, this book is a great way to teach your child poetry as well as diversity.

Recommendation : Highly Recommended. 6+
Reviewer: Yu-Han Chao

Jeremy’s Dreidel by Ellie Gellman

cover for Jeremy's DreidelIt is Hanukkah season and the Jewish Community Center is hosting a dreidel workshop and Hanukkah celebration to mark the occasion. All the children have grand ideas for making their dreidels unique including Miriam’s “green” dreidel made from recycled materials, Jacob’s singing one made from an old music box, David’s bouncing dreidel made from a rubber ball, and Jeremy’s Braille dreidel. Jeremy’s choice of material, clay, initially does not seem as interesting as that of the other children. However, as he begins to model his clay dreidel with mysterious dots, the other children in the workshop soon recognize its uniqueness and, in the process, they learn a lesson about Braille, blindness, and what it means to have a parent who is blind. (more…)

I Am Jazz by Jazz Jennings and Jessica Herthel

I Am Jazz coverImagine a world where it’s no big deal to be transgender, a safe space for everyone. I Am Jazz is the kind of children’s book that brings us closer to that world.

With a matter-of-fact and endearing voice, Jazz explains her journey to getting everyone around her to accept her identity. The book begins like any other children’s book about a little girl: Jazz’s favorite color is pink, and she likes dancing, singing, soccer, and mermaids. The turning point comes after Jazz introduces her best friends, Samantha and Casey, with whom she enjoys cartwheels and trampolines. “But I’m not exactly like Samantha and Casey,” she continues, “I have a girl brain but a boy body. This is called transgender. I was born this way!” Even as a toddler, Jazz tried to correct her mother when she called her a good boy. “No, Mama. Good GIRL!” (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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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…)

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