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Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
In Breadcrumbs, Anne Ursu has penned a lively, wistful tale that gets at so much of the poignancy that is being a 10-year-old. This is a moving story that offers a modern-day account of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” In Ursu’s version, Hazel, a ten-year-old Indian-American girl with white (adoptive) parents is best friends with Jack, the boy next door until Jack mysteriously changes. The adults around them chalk up this change to typical pre-teen turmoil: it’s not unusual for girl–boy friendships to become awkward. But the reader can feel Hazel’s sadness. It’s hard to grow up, it’s hard to change and watch others change. Hazel is caught between wanting to fit in and wanting to keep her special friendship with Jack the way it is. At its heart, this is a story about how we can hold onto our real selves even as we change along with our friends. (more…)
Jasmine Skies by Sita Brahmachari
When I heard Sita Brahmachari had written a sequel to Artichokes Hearts (Mira in the Present Tense) I could not wait to get my hands and eyes on it. Like a memorable character does, Mira had gone on living in my mind and I was excited to see where her creator had taken her. But while Brahmachari’s second novel does continue to focus on Mira and includes character references from her previous book it did not feel like a sequel or a continuation from the first novel. So while it did not satisfy my curiosity, it does mean this book can stand on its own. A reader can begin with Jasmine Skies and not feel lost.
Jasmine Skies reintroduces the reader to Mira Levenson at the age of 14. After the passing of her grandfather, family ties were tenuously rekindled and Mira is on the way to Kolkata, India to meet her grandfather’s side of the family for the first time. In her bag she has letters taken without permission from her mother. Mira believes these letters hold the clues to discover the reason her grandfather never returned to India and why Mira’s mother and her same aged cousin, Anjali, stopped speaking. Despite the strained relationship, Mira is excited to be staying with Anjali and her daughter, Priya for three weeks. She is excited to meet members of her family for the first time and to get to know Kolkata, the place her grandfather told her stories about all her her life.
Nina and the Traveling Spice Shed by Madhvi Ramani
If your readers like the Magic Tree House series, they will probably be interested in Nina and the Traveling Spice Shed. Nina is a British Indian, who really would like nothing to do with India. At school, Nina’s class is doing projects on foreign countries and despite her parents’ strong suggestions she wants to report on any country BUT India. Yet, she arrives late to school and the only country left is India. Not able to face her parents and her disappointment after school, Nina visits her eccentric Aunt Nishi. Aunt Nishi sends her to the spice shed in her backyard and that is where Nina’s traveling adventures begin. Nina’s first stop—there are more books to come—is predictably India. She discovers India is more than “hot weather and poor people”. (more…)
Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj
Varsha Bajaj’s novel, Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood presents the story of a bi-racial Indian-America girl who’s never met her father. She’s spent her life living in Houston, Texas with her mother being a happy, well-loved American girl who only knows one thing about her father: he is from India.
The story opens with Abby having an allergic reaction to coconut. After having to admit she knows nothing about the medical history of the father of her child, Abby’s mother realizes she needs to attempt to contact him, something she has not tried since she found out she was pregnant. After a very small window of waiting, she is finally able to contact her ex-boyfriend and as it turns out, he never received the registered letter she sent all those years ago explaining Abby’s existence. Abby not only has to deal with the shock that her father never knew about her—up until this point she believed he simply didn’t want to be a part of her life—but she also finds out he is a huge Bollywood star. The rest of the novel revolves around Abby traveling to Mumbai to meet her father and the other half of her ethnicity.
A Talk with the Author: Madhvi Ramani brings new book Nina and the Magical Carnival to life with a “live” reading and interview.
Author Madhvi Ramani has brought us three delightful, globe-trotting journeys featuring mystery solving, elementary school protagonist Nina who goes on adventures around the world in her aunt’s magical travelling spice shed. The child of immigrant parents from India, Nina is a first generation Brit trying to excel at school, avoid bullies and define her cultural identity in a way that honors who she really feels she is and isn’t too offensive to her family. In the first two books, Nina’s trips to India and China helped her solve some extraordinary problems. In the third novel, Nina travels to Brazil.
Today, the author reads us the first chapter of the third book in the series: Nina and the Magical Carnival, which gets released in the United States today, just in time for winter holiday gifting.
In addition to reading us the first chapter of her new release, Ramani took the time to discuss diversity in children’s literature and her debut novel, Nina and the Travelling Spice Shed.
Support diversity literature and give the young readers in your life some great reads by buying all three titles or just the new release, Nina and the Magical Carnival.
Perfect Lil Blends by Luke Whitehead
Perfect 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…)
The Toothless Tooth Fairy by Shanelle Hicks
When 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/.
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
I 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.
All the Colors of the Earth by Sheila Hamanaka
Poetically, 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.