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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

Antonio’s Card/ La Tarjeta de Antonio by/por Rigoberto Gonzalez

Cover for Antonio's Card la Tarjeta de Antonio

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

Education & Empathy; Thong’s Round Is A Tortilla & Green Is A Chile Pepper and the Importance of Diversity in Toddler Literacy

Round is a Tortilla cover green is a chile pepper

One thing that’s most lovely about books directed at very young children is their ability to invite and include. The books Round is a Tortilla and Green is a Chile Pepper by Roseanne Greenfield Thong are musical and colorful representations of the Mexican-American subculture.

 The inclusion of subcultures and images which portray children of color is so immensely important to the development of empathy. Exposing very young children to stories where foods, colors, cultures, and concepts are dissimilar from what they see, allows them to see the world differently. In addition, finding comparisons is equally important. So, in these books, instead of something being round like a cookie, it’s round like a tortilla, or instead of green like the grass it’s green like a chile pepper. The shapes and colors are the familiar and the tortilla and chile pepper are the unfamiliar (unless you cook some spicey food!). In addition, if your child does happen to be part of the subculture represented, the mere presence of people who look (have brown skin, in the case of these stories) like your child reinforces their own sense of inclusion.

 So, a little brown girl with a red flower reads a book while sitting on the sill of a square window. This story could be any children’s book, but that seemingly small adjective: brown, changes everything! It doesn’t alter reality, because in reality our county is made of complex color combinations and subcultures, but it alters the trend in children’s books. A book about shapes is important for skill-building and recognition; it helps reinforce terminology, language and develop synaptic pathways for your child, but oh! That brown, that little qualifier, brown: well, it encourages diversity, inclusion, empathy, it reinforces the representations of the self.

 Finally, the minds of children are both absorbent and reflective. They can, like a sponge, retain all that’s around them while simultaneously finding themselves, and their place in that same space.   Round like a Tortilla invites your child to consider shapes outside the normal concepts, it includes your child-of-color or a non-related subculture and it helps children absorb information while finding their own reflections. What more do you need in a toddler’s shape book?

Highly recommended for ages 0 – 4

Reviewer: Rachelle Linda Escamilla

Something Special For Me by Vera B. Williams

cover for Something Special For MeVera. B Williams’, Something Special for Me, follows Rosa, once again as she narrates a series of situations in her life. Even as a child, I grinned when stories contained nods to a protagonist’s earlier titles and several details including the reappearance of the chair and coin jar from A Chair for My Mother lent that special touch here. The accordion also brings the idea of family tradition to in this book.

After the coin jar from A Chair for My Mother, is filled once again, Rosa’s mother and Grandmother decide to use it for Rosa’s birthday present. Rosa comes close to buying herself roller skates, clothes, and even a red tent, but backs out of each buy (to be honest, I was hoping for the skates).

After she hears a man playing an accordion and finds out that her Grandmother also played the same instrument, Rosa chooses to buy an accordion. I really enjoyed this ending because Rosa found a way to make herself happy, and bring a small joy to her mother and Grandmother. It was enjoyable to see Rosa doing something for herself this time. This is different from the approach to family loyalty in A Chair for My Mother and Music, Music, for Everyone in which Rosa is solely focused on her mother and grandmother.

I found Williams’ artwork, although somewhat simple, engaging. I was so intrigued that with each page, I tried to see every item in the artwork. Young girls may enjoy Something Special for Me moreso than other readers but Williams writes a story in which gender is not significant to the plot.

Recommendation: Recommended. Ages 5+

Reviewer: Warren Stokes

 

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

Dear Primo: a Letter to my Cousin by Duncan Tonatiuh

cover for Dear Primo- A Letter to My CousinComparing Cultures, A Review of Duncan Tonatiuh’s “Dear Primo: a Letter to my Cousin”

This epistolary children’s book not only fills a much needed niche in the narrative for children living in America, it gives us a glimpse into a different kind of family structure, a family structure whose existence is an arbitrary border away.

 Charlie, the Mexican-American boy living in New York, experiences life as an assimilated child: basketball, pizza, and video games; while his cousin, Carlitos, a village dweller in Mexico, experiences a similar but different experience: his sport is soccer, his cheese is found in a quesadilla and his games are found in the beauty of his natural environment. The two kids’ lives mimic one another; one is associated with the other in a way that would be interesting to a child, if cliche for adults.

 Children like familiarity which is provided through Charlie’s perspective, but children also respond to new sounds, so the sprinkling of Spanish is welcomed. Familiar Spanish nouns like perros (dogs) and gallo (rooster) are introduced as captions or interjections which provide intertextual experience; you and your child could spend extra time on the page isolating those words and building a small vocabulary.

 But the most amazing part of this book is beyond the words: the illustrations! These full-page, hand-drawn, hand-colored images are warm with the color of earth when we experience Carlitos’ narrative and steely cool when Charlie’s sterile city scene is set. The boys are boxy and asymmetrical with profile-facing, round heads in a style reminiscent of Mayan art. The boys are modern versions of their ancestors: a mixture of animal and human, earth and man; even their spirally fists are imaginative.

 This book presents two cultures which overlap and exist on the same continent. Two cultures positioned in contrasting contexts: different settings in the same family.

 Recommendation: Highly recommended, ages 4 – 8

 Book Review by: Rachelle Escamilla

The Toothless Tooth Fairy by Shanelle Hicks

The Toothless Tooth Fairy by Shanelle HicksWhen I first saw the cover of The Toothless Tooth Fairy, I thought, ‘Oh, the mixed girls’ version of Tinkerbell. This is the first original picture book I’ve read with a non-white magical being as protagonist. Many will see this as a simple and sweet story of a fairy’s generous heart enabling her to love her enemy and be seen as beautiful because of her kindness.

However, the tooth fairy characters are focused primarily on physical beauty. The protagonist’s name is Bella, which means “beauty.” The setting for this story is the fairies competing in a beauty contest. At the outset, the narrative states “Every tooth fairy was certain Bella was going to win. She was beautiful. She had long, curly brown hair, and her teeth were perfect,” This language coupled with all the other fairies’ hair styled in buns, pigtails, afro-puffs, ponytails, or pulled back, reinforces the concept that there is only one way to be beautiful—with long flowing hair—and only Bella inhabits that beautiful space.

Even though the next sentence says, “the most beautiful thing about Bella was her kindness,” the first action we see from Bella, instead of this kindness that is supposed to be her greatest feature of beauty, is Bella smiling and showing off her flight skills to the contest judges. Although the book’s message is that kindness is more valuable than physical beauty, the prominent importance of physical beauty that conforms to a European ideal will obscure the message of kindness for the reader under 6. Furthermore, this will impress upon readers of all ages that kindness does not make a person beautiful; it only makes those who are already conforming to European standards of beauty even prettier.

In the narrative, Bella is a tooth fairy whose enemy causes her to fly into a wall and lose a tooth during a prettiest smile contest. So she can look perfect, Bella, in turn tries to steal a tooth from three of the kids on her list who will be losing a tooth soon. The text says she is going to borrow the tooth and leave an I.O.U. behind but her ‘borrowing’ entails pulling these children’s teeth from their mouths with thread and pliers. While her actions to get these teeth are funny, there are no direct repercussions for Bella’s thievery and no consideration of the way the two brown girls from whom she steals teeth will feel when they wake up without their teeth.

Ultimately, Bella fails to steal a healthy tooth. When Bella fails to steal a usable tooth, she still comforts Zelda, her enemy who seems to be crying but Zelda is not really crying—she just pretends to cry to get Bella’s attention then she taunts Bella in response to Bella’s kindness. Bella’s tears of defeat turn Zelda into a monstrous witch but Bella hugs Zelda the witch until Zelda becomes normal, and then a “most beautiful, nice fairy”. After this, the contest judges decide there are two beautiful winners of the contest—Bella who is balanced because of her powerfully kind heart and Zelda, her nemesis who is redeemed by Bella’s kindness.

While the nemesis, Zelda, is pink and red in complexion, costume, and hair, she has a Caucasian dominant phenotype and she is the only fairy other than Bella who actually speaks or takes any individual action in the story. Although the other fairies represent every continent’s nationalities and ethnicities, all the other fairies are a silent ensemble nearly melting into the background of the story.

Recommendation:  If this story fits within your value system, it is unique and valuable for children of color to see themselves in books as leaders of magical beings.

Diversity Children’s Books Website is Live

Mixed Diversity Children’s Book Reviews is officially a website:  http://mixeddiversityreads.com/.

Book Review Categories Pic for mixed diversity book review page (1024x701)The Website, which founder Omilaju Miranda began as a page on facebook is now a full website with blog where you can find books with diverse protagonists by specific category. Books are easily locatable on a drop down menu. The site is dedicated to listing and reviewing children’s and YA books with protagonists who are either: biracial/mixed, transracial adoptee, bilingual, lgbt-parented, single-parented, or gender non-conforming. There is also a magazine where the site will feature writing for, and by children, and an opportunity for parents to send in photos and videos of their children reading or reciting stories and poems. Check out the book site and find the book for your little one today. If you are a writer or interested in communications and publicity, the site is actively seeking children’s book reviewers and interns to publicize and network with schools and libraries.

My Hair is So Happy by Nik Scott

cover for My Hair is So HappyI thought any little girl with curly hair would love seeing images similar to herself in this book. My first response when I read it was “I love these illustrations.” As I read, it was exciting to see four girls representing nearly the full spectrum of skin tones and hair textures found amongst African Diaspora and African Diaspora mixed heritage kids. The writing makes a well-intentioned commitment to reforming the language of curly hair from “nappy” to “happy”. There is no story here though and no character-based reasons for a child to attach to any of these characters. Many will find it disconcerting that, in a book that seems to celebrate unity and self-love, the characters are participating in a beauty contest. Although they are all wearing tiaras and “Lil’ Miss Curly” sashes, we all know that competition means someone must be judged better or more beautiful than the other. Also, depending on one’s beliefs, there is language of being “fearfully” made that may be inexplicable to your children. When I read the book to my three-year-old, she asked why the girl was happy, was more interested in the dog in the illustrations and started chanting “My Hair is So Angry.” If I were a child psychologist I would analyze my daughter’s responses and offer insight into how other little girls might respond to this book but I’m not. As a reader and writer, I say the illustrations in this book offer images showing girls enjoying all aspects of life while leaving their hair curly and parents can create many conversations based on these images.

Recommendation: Recommended. We rarely see these many representations of different types of curly-haired children on the page and these girls are also happy and happy about their hair so if that is valuable to your little one, buy the book.

Book Review by Omilaju Miranda.

From the Bellybutton of the Moon/ Del Ombligo de la Luna And Other Summer Poems/ y otros poemas de verano by Francisco X. Alarcon

cover for From the Bellybutton of the MoonThis is a book of free verse poems about the poet’s childhood experiences in nature, travel, and with his family during his visits to his grandparents’ home in Mexico. The poems are filled with simple vignettes of imagery. They are printed first in Spanish then in the English translation. All poems are accompanied by vivid oil painting illustrations. This is a great book to introduce middle school and older elementary children to free verse poetry while imparting the wonder of being a part of the life of grandparents in a different rural country every summer. All children who spend extended vacations with family members during the summer will relate with these poems of familial love and journey and those who visit Mexico will enjoy this celebration of the rural Mexican landscape, lifestyle and Mexican culture.

 

 

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages: 8+
Book Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda