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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

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman

cover for Amazing GraceGrace has a limitless imagination. Like many of the children who will read this story, she likes to dress up as any character she has ever seen or can imagine from spiders to pirates. When her teacher announces that the class is going to stage “Peter Pan”, Grace wants to play the lead role of Peter despite the fact that two of her classmates tell her she can’t play Peter because he is a boy and he’s white. Grace who lives with her single mother and grandmother goes home sad, and her mom and grandmother assure her that she can play Peter if she wants. Grace memorizes Peter Pan’s lines and Grandma even takes her to the ballet to see an Afro-Trinidadian friend of the family play Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet”. Grace wins the part of Peter and does an amazing job playing the role. Every child with an imagination will connect with Grace. Children of single mothers or parents who get tired but still make time to play will see themselves reflected in Grace’s family. My 3-year-old expected the story to continue so the fullness of the story arc will register more with readers instead of pre-literate children.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 6-9

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams

A chair for my mother coverWith the dedication to giving every single detail that is so commonly heard in a child’s story telling, Vera B. Williams spins a believable first person narrative in A Chair for My Mother . Rosa, the protagonist lives with her mother and her grandmother who have survived a fire and are saving their coins to buy a new chair because all their old furniture was “spoiled” in the fire. The day of the fire, Rosa got new sandals and her mother got new pumps; other details include the fact that one day, while helping out at her mother’s waitress job, Rosa peeled all the onions for the onion soup. Rosa, her mother, and grandmother take turns in the chair at the story before they buy it and take turns enjoying it once it is in their home. This is another Caldecott Honor book for Vera B. Williams. I like the consistency of the child’s voice, the cohesiveness of the family, support of the community that donates almost all the furniture for their new apartment, and colorful, emotionally balanced way that Williams deals with the sensitive issue of surviving a fire. At one point my interest did drift—I got a little bored but this goes hand in hand with the believability of Rosa’s voice. Children will often give you every single detail they can remember which can be challenging to entertain in real life as it was for me for two pages of the book. Vera B. Williams has written two other books in the Rosa series: Something Special For Me and Music, Music For Everyone. Rosa is a child whose first-person narrative story deserves a place in a child’s library.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 5-8

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

little blue and little yellow by Leo Lionni

cover for little blue and little yellowlittle blue and little yellow is a cute book with two ragged-edged dots as the protagonists. One dot is blue and one dot is yellow. They hug and become one green dot that plays throughout the day with other dot friends. Then they go home, first to blue dot’s home then to yellow dot’s home and the parents of both reject green dot because they don’t recognize their child in the green dot. When green dot cries, blue and yellow tears come out until “they are ALL tears”. We see a bunch of little blue dashes and a bunch of little yellow dashes then we see the individual yellow and blue dot again. As their original selves, blue dot and yellow dot go home and their parents rejoice by hugging them and then the other parents. When the yellow and blue parents hug each other, they see that they also turn green when they hug. The difference for the parents is they do not allow themselves to become one new green dot. Instead, they visit each other and go out to watch their children play again with part of their green union intact while on either side they are their blue and yellow selves. They are now a role model for little blue and little yellow who are, like their parents, walking around and playing in the same configuration, which is blue and yellow on the edges and green in the middle. They play with other dots of different colors, some of which are also blending together.

This book functions on multiple levels that children of increasing age groups up to adult will be able to discuss and analyze: 1. It teaches children about color combining to make new colors; 2. It teaches children that you can have fun as friends and be affectionate with people of different colors and if you marry you make a whole unique creation. 3. It teaches that you can combine in a relationship while also being yourself hence green in the middle of yellow and blue on the edges. 4. It teaches that when families become united through marriage, even the in-laws change into a new creation. 5. It also teaches that when parents don’t recognize their children because of the way they have changed in their new relationship, they often reject them and it isn’t until they once again recognize their children, perhaps in the arrival of grandchildren, that they accept their children and their children’s chosen relationship but only the most advanced readers will get number 5.

I found it thought provoking on a simple and complex level. It was age appropriate and sparked questions from my 3-year-old daughter while making me recognize it as criticism of exclusionary, familial rejection and prejudiced social practices as well as a critique of in-law relationships especially in cross cultural families.


Recommendation: Very Highly Recommended; Ages 3+
Book Review by Omilaju Miranda

Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers

cover of Everywhere BabiesThis sweet board book is a like a buffet of babies charming both children and adult readers. The author, Susan Meyers, and the illustrator, Marla Frazee, celebrate baby’s first year of life beginning with swaddled newborns, through all the late night rocking and feeding, into the crawling and playing, exploring life all the while and ending with a cake-covered baby on the first birthday. It is very clear Meyers and Frazee spent a lot of time just watching babies and families. It is also unmistakable they had a message when writing this book—diversity is joyful. We see light-skinned hands lifting a dark-skinned baby and a light-skinned baby reaching out for dark-skinned hands. We hear that babies can be fed “by bottle, by breast, with cups and with spoons.” We see two moms, single parents, two dads, twins, a variety of body shapes and sizes, grandmas and grandpas, and many combinations of skin tone. This book really is the I Spy of family diversity, so the reader will have no problem finding a picture that resembles himself and his family.
The one criticism I have for this book is we do not see any persons with physical disabilities. There is one grandmother holding a baby on her knee while her cane rests beside her, but no obvious example of a child or parent with a disability. We see babies crawling and one baby learning to walk, but it would have been lovely to have seen a child with a walker or braces on her legs. Beyond that, I have nothing but glowing remarks for this book. It is an old favorite of ours and my go-to present for 1-year olds, given that it ends with a birthday party. The closing of the book also speaks to me personally as the mother of an internationally adopted child. “Every day, everywhere, babies are loved—for trying so hard, for traveling so far, for being so wonderful… just as they are!” This simple inclusion of “traveling so far” always made me and my child feel as if the story was hers.

Recommendation: I highly recommend this book for ages 9 months to 3 years. It deserves a place on every book shelf in every home and every place of learning.


Book Reviewer: Amanda Setty

I Love Saturdays y domingos by Alma Flor Ada

cover for I Love Saturdays y DomingosThis is a valuable book to show the bilingual and bicultural immersion of a girl who is  multiracial Mexican and Caucasian USAmerican. On every alternate page the protagonist speaks Spanish with her Mexican grandparents. On the surface, the grandparents are different—in addition to their race/ethnicity, the USAmerican grandparents live in the city or suburbs, the Mexican grandparents live on a farm near a fishing pier. The illustrations are lively and evocative. It is a formulaic story of comparisons: My grandpa buys me balloons: my abuelo buys me a kite; my grandma makes pancakes; my abuela makes me huevos rancheros…fourteen pages in, I drifted from boredom. Despite the fact that the comparisons went on for too long in my opinion, the parallel lifestyles and interests of the grandparents makes a powerful impression on the reader of the similarities of people who seem very different. Although the details of their lives are very different, both sets of grandparents love their pets, enjoy the circus, like making things by hand, create exceptional ways to make the protagonist happy and, of course, love their granddaughter.
The plot turn which is actually fun should have come earlier in the book—the protagonist has a party at her house that both sets of grandparents attend during which the grandparents help out with the children. The Pinata and the traditional Mexican birthday song are fun. You and your child may actually want to learn the song as I did.

Recommendation: Mildly recommended

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

Hope by Isabell Monk

Hope by Isabell MonkHope is on her summer visit to spend time with her aunt Poogee. They are having a great time until they run in to an old friend of her aunt’s who has been away for awhile. The woman asks “Is the child mixed?” as if Hope is a weird object instead of a person, which makes Hope feel sad. Aunt Poogee uplifts Hopes spirits by telling her about her ancestry on both sides of her family and that her parents came together in love. This is a straightforward narrative that addresses implied prejudice and recognizes a child’s emotional response to disapproval is felt even when not verbally expressed. Rich illustrations accentuate the emotional impact of the story.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 6+
Book Review by Omilaju Miranda