Diverse Kids Books–Reviews

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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…)

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Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash/ Marisol McDonald y la fiesta sin igual by/por Monica Brown

cover for Marisol Mcdonald and the Clash BashMonica Brown once again delivers a captivating protagonist in the character of Marisol McDonald whose bilinguality, red-headed, brown-skinned physical traits, and mixed Peruvian-Scottish-U.S.American ethnic heritage are significant influences on her daily life. Marisol McDonald became one of my favorite children’s literature characters in the first book in this series, Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match. This time around, Marisol is days away from her eighth birthday. While she doesn’t want to choose clothes or a party theme that match, she does want to see her abuelita (grandmother) for her birthday. However, Marisol must deal with the disappointing reality that, despite the fact that she has been doing chores and saving money for two years to pay for her abuelita to visit, a visa for her grandmother to visit the U.S. takes too much time for abuelita to arrive before Marisol’s birthday. With the strategic use of hand made, individualized party invitations to her diverse,  multicultural group of friends, Marisol is able to get her mismatched costume birthday party and her abuelita finds a special, and realistic way to make an appearance. The story is told in a rich, first person point of view, which includes a sprinkling of Spanish in the English version and a sprinkling of English in the Spanish version so the reader always feels as if they are living in Marisol’s authentic bilingual world. Palacios’ painted illustrations add to the overall cheer of enjoying this book. And the dual language, English/Spanish telling of the story allow the reader to read the story in both languages in one sitting or read it in English one day and Spanish the next day.

My four-year-old who is rather good at decoding and following a good story didn’t follow all the detailed nuances that go along with Marisol choosing not to match and wasn’t as excited about this story as I was so I put target audience at just slightly older and a better fit for the child who can already read. The quality of the story should make it a favorite for children beyond the age of ten even though they will have already moved on to higher reading levels. For the 5-8 year old reader, new vocabulary is emphasized that will make them excitedly run to the dictionary so they can understand every single word and emotion of this spunky, energetic protagonist. I want to see so much more of Marisol McDonald. Once again, think Madeleine, think Eloise, think Olivia the Pig, think Orphan Annie all updated and in a Peruvian-Scottish U.S.American girl.  l I love this character; you and your kids will as well.  (buy

Recommendations: Highly Recommended Ages 5-8+

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

The Wakame Gatherers by Holly Thompson

cover for Wakame GatherersHolly Thompson tackles the difficult subject of war with grace and beautiful writing in The Wakame Gatherers. The book begins with a little girl saying, “My name is Nanami—Seven Seas—and I have two grandmothers from two different seas: Gram from Maine, and Baachan, who lives with us here in Japan.”

 Gram visits Japan, and several pages are dedicated to descriptions and illustrations of the beaches of Maine and Japan, with particular focus on the local color of Nanami’s Japanese hometown. As a translator between her two grandmothers, Nanami helps them compare and contrast their two lands, learns about hooking and preparing seaweed as she takes care to “[use] the right language with the right grandmother.”

 Then comes conflict: not in the present, but seeping through from history. The illustrations become dark and ominous as Baachan reminisces about the war. Nanami continues to translate, and understands, “when my grandmothers were my age they were enemies, their countries bombing each other’s people.” The two old women, through their shared granddaughter’s translation, apologize for their countries’ past actions, and in the space of two pages, a feeling of peace and happiness is restored as they return to wakame gathering.

 With exquisite illustrations and vivid descriptions, The Wakame Gatherers brings together two cultures by not just acknowledging similarities and differences, but addressing the past. Of additional educational value at the end of the book are a fact sheet about wakame, a glossary of Japanese phrases, and three wakame recipes.

 Recommended: Highly recommended. Ages 4-8.

Music, Music for Everyone by Vera B. Williams

cover for Music Music For EveryoneIn what may be considered the third of Vera B. Williams’ “Rosa” series, Music, Music for Everyone, Rosa’s new found accordion hobby and relationship with her Grandmother continue. When Rosa’s Grandmother grows ill, Rosa and her friends try to make her feel better. They finally decide the best way to help her recover is to fill the coin jar again, by raising money as a musical band. After practicing and finding a party to play at, their performance not only brings Rosa’s Grandmother a sense of joy, but it also brings their families and the neighborhood even closer.

The illustrations in this book are as fun as those in Williams’ A Chair for My Mother and Something Special for Me. While the characters do not seem as physically active in the artwork as they were in the previous books, the art is still appealing. In this book, Williams used color as a strong medium to convey the emotional tone of the story, with scenes that seem gloomier than others painted darker colors. The illustration I liked the most was the two pages of family and friends dancing at the anniversary party. I even found myself spending a couple of minutes trying to see how each character was dancing. The artwork also included a wide range of ethnicities, which I thought I added to this story’s theme.

Family bonds is the primary theme of this story with music being used to bring each family closer, especially Rosa and her Grandmother. The story’s subtext conveys the importance of being able to use your own talents to help others and maybe bring people closer. Just as the other two Rosa stories are more female oriented when it comes to the characters, Music, Music, for Everyone, is focused more on female familial relationships than other relationships. However, the characters’ gender only adds to the overall strength of the story that all people would enjoy.

Recommendation: Recommended; ages 5+

 Reviewer: Warren Stokes

Dumpling Soup by Jama Kim Rattigan

Cover for Dumpling SoupThis first person narrative peppered with words from four different languages and a prominent grandmother character who speaks Korean almost every time she talks, was the 1990 winner of the New Voices, New World contest. Marisol, the protagonist narrates with such open vulnerability that the reader becomes easily attached to the story of her Hawaiian family’s New Year’s eve and her first time making dumplings for the Dumpling Soup, which is the most important first meal of the New Year. I can not say any better than the publisher that “Dumpling Soup is a rich mix of food, language, and customs from many cultures—Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian, and haole (Hawaiian for “white”) The distinct traditions and heritage of each culture are not forgotten but play a vital part in this close-knit family’s life.” As cousins, aunts and even the grandmother of various heritages bring their different, ethnically distinct foods, speak their different languages, and use their different recipes and techniques for making dumpling soup to the protagonist’s and then, the grandmother’s home, readers from around the world see the reality of recognizing and loving people with, and for their differences instead of for the ways they are the same.
One of the small details that parents can discuss with their kids is the character Maxie. This is a cousin who the protagonist describes as haole but whose phenotype is Asian. The illustration of this cousin presents a great opportunity to discuss how people think of race and ethnicity differently i.e. how for this Hawaiian family, “white” is Asian, also. Because Marisol tells this story with the joy of participating in a family celebration and the anxiety over participating on a big girl level in that celebration, even as she carries us through the different scenes of the family fun, we never forget that Marisol’s sense of accomplishment and feeling of being valuable within the family depends on the decision her grandmother will make about whether or not to serve the dumplings that Marisol made. Accompanied by emotionally transparent illustrations, this is a beautifully told story that you and your child will enjoy.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages  4-adult

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

Oprah: The Little Speaker by Carole Bosaton Weatherford

cover for Oprah the Little SpeakerThis book about the first six years of Oprah Winfrey’s life, being raised by her single grandmother has received strong reviews from the School Library Journal and Booklist. The book presents Oprah as a child who knew she was special and wanted to be paid to speak as her career; her childhood vision came to fruition once she was an adult. The illustrations are inspiring with language accessible and inviting to small children.

Recommendation: Highly recommended; ages 5+

Pinata by Ken Locsmandi and Sebastian A. Jones

PinataOh, the piñatas talk and I love this book but more importantly, my daughter loves this book. She asked me to read it to her five times the first night and three times the next. It sits atop her dresser like a favorite family photo—her comfort and entertainment. This is the magical Pinnochioesque story of Pancho the Piñata. Pancho is a creation of Jorge the piñata maker who uses a magical, secret, paper mache mix to bring to life piñatas that speak.

Other than the fact that there is only a partial commitment to rhyme in the story, this is a narrative that transports you into a mystical reality and keeps you there. These piñatas enjoy being at the center of a party. Making the children who break them happy is their life mission. With a plentiful smattering of Spanish words of endearment, Pinata tells the story of Pancho maturing from a scared new piñata into a piñata who finds his self-worth in making Lulu, Jorge’s granddaughter happy on her birthday.

Lulu is confined to a wheel chair but that is never mentioned. So, in just a few pages and with the answering of my daughter’s one question about her, “Why does she have that chair?” the story transported differently abled people from unseen in my daughter’s life to normal. Pancho lives on after his candy is spilled and the extra special fantasy of Pinata continues through the other characters, especially the little candy addicted mice that keep the wonder of this world going. Pinata is an exciting, bilingual, magical experience. At the end of the book, you and your child will learn how to make your own, real life, magical pinata. So, turn a page and swing a bat!

Recommendation: Highly Recommended

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda