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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

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

Mama, I’ll Give You the World by Roni Schotter

Cover of Mama I'll Give You the World“When Papa was around, Mama loved to dance, but Mama doesn’t dance anymore,” is the first line of Mama I’ll Give You the World and that semi-vague statement is all that is ever said about the absent Papa that lives in the subtext of this children’s story. Perhaps he has passed away, maybe he has abandoned the family; either way, children being raised by single mothers with no father in their lives will feel like their family construct is reflected in Luisa and her mother’s family. Luisa’s mother wants to give Luisa the world that is “so big. So much more for you to know. So much more for you to see.” And that starts every day with Luisa doing her homework beneath a palm tree in the beauty salon and Luisa’s mother saving for Luisa’s college tuition. Doing homework looks exotic, Luisa’s working class world looks like a holiday getaway.
The text is accessible prose that brings the reader smoothly and easily into Luisa’s daily life with her mother in Walter’s World of Beauty– the beauty salon where her mother works. As is so often the case in real life, the salon where Luisa’s mother works is a community gathering place where Luisa’s extended family bonds. The story is a narrative of Luisa communicating with all the adults (hairdressers and clients in her mother’s hair salon) to organize a special gift for her mama—a secret gift that even surprises the reader. Luisa’s dedication to her mother culminates in a climax that made me cry as her daughter celebrates her mother’s birthday by connecting her mother to the past. In the midst of the celebration, the story subtlety introduces a new suitor who has been a trusted friend throughout the book.

Luisa is an observant, sensitive, intelligent character who loves her mom, communicates impressively, and with the realistic precociousness of a child, who while protected by many adults in her life, also lives with the worry about her mother’s happiness and past that overshadows their lives. The illustration is fanciful and engaging, telling the story of the loving community to which Luisa belongs.
Luisa’s world is diverse, filled with people of all races and may ethnicities. Although there are no Spanish words spoken, several of the characters bear Spanish names and the full range of physical features found amongst white, tan and moreno Latinos. Children whose families are from many parts of Latin America—whether the Spanish Caribbean, Central, or South America will feel reflected in the characters represented. Additionally, there are two male hair dressers working with Luisa’s mother—one of whom seems to be slightly effeminate so that without saying it directly, we see that Luisa lives in a diverse and all inclusive world.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

 

Hairs & Pelitos by Sandra Cisneros

cover hairs-pelitosA very simple story told by a little girl who seeks comfort in her mother’s smell, embrace, and love. The first person narrative partially frames the oil painting illustrations with the English text at the top and the Spanish text at the bottom of the page. The protagonist enters the story through a discussion of her family’s different hair types. With uncommon descriptions of their hair as analogous to brooms, rosettes, and fur, she tells us of the diverse look and behavior (slippery, lazy, etc.) of her family members’ hair. Diversity is also found in the family through the illustration of each of them as a different color so that they are literally a rainbow family. The front and back covers of the book have educational lessons and crafts exercises for readers making this a hands on bilingual story of family love.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; ages 5+

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

 

All the Colors of the Earth by Sheila Hamanaka

cover for All the Colors of the EarthPoetically, the children of this book become the natural bounty of the earth, their skin color and hair textures compared to the beautiful colors of nature and hair compared to the textures of other living creatures.
With typical sentences/stanzas like,
“Children come in all the colors of the earth—
The roaring browns of bears and soaring eagles,
The whispering golds of late summer grasses,
And crackling russets of fallen leaves,”
a child is able to glean a confidence-inspiring insight into their physical look. This is a beautifully illustrated book that lives up to the lyrical poetry of its narrative. The illustrations go far beyond the normal representation of the human rainbow and, with very detailed rendering of facial characteristics, skin complexions and hair textures, the reader sees real differences in many, many different ethnic types. On the pages of this book, children of every ethnic heritage will find reflections of themselves enjoying life and the world around them. While every physical type of child is represented in ‘All the Colors of the Earth,’ only interracial families are represented, which I think is an exceptional and novel choice however disappointingly inconsistent with the universal inclusiveness of the other illustrations.


Recommendation: 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

Felicia’s Favorite Story by Leslea Newman

Felicia's Favorite Story by Leslea NewmanThis is a simple story that demonstrates a girl’s self-knowledge and love of her own familial history. It’s Felicia’s bedtime and before she goes to sleep she wants a story but not one from a book—in classic, creative recognition of a young child’s vanity, Newman has Felicia ask her mom to tell her a story instead of reading her a story—the story of her adoption. Felicia and her moms become a family through an at-birth adoption in which New York native Mama Nessa and Puerto Rican native Mama Linda travel to Guatemala to bring Felicia home .
As her Mama Linda tells her the story, Felicia interrupts, often inserting her humor and her own retelling of the story into her mother’s narrative. Felicia isn’t the only one with humor as her mothers join in with humor of their own which includes ponderings of why they didn’t adopt certain animals instead of a child and stories of how they chose Felicia’s name. If you have an expressive child, you and your child will see their quick wit and self-indulgence in the character of Felicia and you and your significant other in the bargaining, nurturing ways of Mama Linda and Mama Nessa. Adriana Romo’s illustrations look like paintings; Romo even frames them in borders that refer to Latin American cultural art, pulling the reader in as admiring observer as well as reader.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 4+

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

I Don’t Have Your Eyes by Carrie A Kitze

I Don't Have Your Eyes by Carrie A KitzeWritten with transracial adoptee children in mind, this book, with a series of lyrical statements, contrasting the differences in the physical appearances of children’s and parents’ body parts to the emotions, attitudes , and life perspectives associated metaphorically with the physical, sensorial, or functional purpose of the body part, communicates the conscientious and humane value system that parents teach and transfer to their children with such fluidity and beauty that you feel the text bringing you and your child closer and helping your child see the best in themselves and their depthful connection to you. In no cheesy, but a substantial, poetic, non-didactic prose, the book really conveys that who we are and who we help each other grow to be inside is what is valuable and what makes us family. The illustration is beautiful, realistic and includes illustrations of many different parent-child racial pairings including parents and children who share the same race but obviously different features so it doesn’t have to read as a book about “all of us racially different kids”; a child walks away from this book understanding that no one looks exactly like their parents but the loving way we navigate in the world is the offspring of our parents way of raising us.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 4-12

Book Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

Nina Bonita by Ana Maria Machado

Nina BonitaThis book was originally written in Spanish and I read the English translation. Set in Brazil, with a spotlight on that country’s African Diaspora population, the magical friendship between a child and a rabbit whose speech every human can understand, grounds the narrative in levity and fantasy from the first page. Creating a balanced contrast with the text that likens the child to princesses of Africa and fairies from the moon, the straightforward discussion of family likeness and illustration of a full range of Brazilian phenotypes and ethnicities gave me goosebumps as I read this story. Nina Bonita is a girl whose dynamic dark beauty includes “hair curly and pitch black as if made of unwoven threads of night; skin dark and glossy just like a panther in the rain,” who has captured the heart and adoration of a white bunny who wants so much to have a daughter like her. He thinks he must be black himself to have such a daughter and asks Nina “what makes your skin so dark and pretty?” Nina has no idea how she got to be black especially since her mother is brown and her father is white but she makes up stories of how she may have gotten her color. Although the narrative is funny, Nina’s stories are a testimony to the sad fact that white or light is considered normal in her life so she comes up with extreme reasons for “becoming” dark instead of seeing herself as a reflection of her family. The bunny rabbit’s misfortunes in trying to become black like her by following her stories –mainly ending up sick and with diarrhea from drinking coffee and eating blackberries—also demonstrate the pitfalls of not discussing a child’s heritage with him/her. Ultimately, Nina Bonita’s mother overhears the conversation between the girl and the rabbit and tells them that Nina looks just like her grandmother. “Of course!” declares the rabbit who immediately ventures out to find a beautiful “night black” rabbit wife with whom he can make a daughter.
I don’t know if this is because of the translation or if the original had this wording but I’m disappointed in the language that makes it “natural” that Nina Bonita would become the godmother of the jet black bunny that is born to the bunny couple and the assertion that the bunnies have lots of babies “because when rabbits start having babies they never seem to stop” – I’m aware that I’m made uncomfortable by my own experience with racist stereotypes in the U.S. –an issue a few of you may or may not have as well. Other than those little blips, this story contains lyrical language and spirited drawings that bring to life the beautiful diversity of a Brazilian family, elevating the beauty of the least celebrated phenotype in most societies without any negative controversy over her belonging or her natural beauty. It will take you three weeks to receive the book when you order it from Amazon.com but it is well worth it and if you can read it in Spanish, you should get it in the original or maybe both versions. Enjoy.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Age 5+

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda