Diverse Kids Books–Reviews

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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.

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

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

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

My Mom is a Foreigner but Not to Me by Julianne Moore

My mom is not a foreigner cover imageI love this book so very much
I can read it ten good times
She represents a child’s experience
With such cool, catchy rhymes

This book by Julianne Moore, primarily written in ABCB rhyming quatrain stanzas, is a first person narrative from the perspective of a dozen different children, which talks about the varied experiences of a child living in the U.S. with a mother from another country. The illustrator, Meilo So has chosen a “framed” illustration style which, other than the fact that it leaves a lot of white space on the page is successful at providing images for many different aspects of the “story” simultaneously.
Not only do I like the fact that Moore’s rhyme is perfect ninety per cent of the time, the text shows the dynamic conflicts faced by children who love their mothers but experience, with a little shame, all of the ways in which their mother is different from other mothers and people they encounter daily, including their different food and culturally different greeting and doting customs. The children also communicate their discomfort with their mothers’ use of a different language in communicating with them and their mothers’ slow mastery of English as their second language.
Most of the children from whose voice the book is written appear to be between the ages of 7-11. While there are several pages in the book illustrating the mothers caring for a second child in the infant/toddler age range, there is only one page in the book that shows a mother and father together (in a photo on a dresser) so children living in single-mother led households can easily find a reflection of their family construct in this book.
Most of the mother-child relationships in the book are clearly representative of an interracial family (even though we don’t see fathers) with children who look racially different from their mothers. Moore and Meilo So cover the full gamut of children who look racially different from their mothers whether the mothers are East Asian, Subsaharan African, or Dutch with children whose features present as the entire world spectrum of all racial/ethnic features. Meilo So does not just throw kids on the page who are holding hands with mothers—no, her vivid, emotionally realistic, water color illustrations are done with such attention to detail that on one page there is a brown-skinned, gele scarf wearing mother with her pale-skinned, red-haired daughter who the reader can see look exactly alike–like twins except their skin color, height, and weight are different. The “twin” mother and daughter are walking up the stairs as a boy behind them keeps staring at them and a mother holding a child that is like her in every obvious way walks towards them staring at them with a surprised, questioning look on her face. The text that goes along with this illustration speaks of the emotional weight a child faces when her features are just like her mom’s but because of different racial markers people don’t always see their likeness:

“Some people say we look alike
Others wonder: What’s HER name?
I get so upset when they say,
“Why don’t you look the same?””

Finally, this book ends with a celebration of all the universal ways in which a mother and child bond,

“She gives me lots of kisses,
she tucks me in at night,
she laughs at ALL my jokes,
SHE HOLDS ME VERY TIGHT”
With this well-written, fancifully illustrated picture book, Julianne Moore and Meilo So have hit a home run for all readers and definitely for intercultural and multi-lingual and interracial families that also keeps children belonging to single parent households from feeling like outsiders.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages–3-10

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

Mira in the Present Tense (originally published in the U.K as Artichoke Hearts) by Sita Bhramachari

cover for Mira in the Present TenseMira in the Present Tense is definitely a three-hankie book. This storyline tows the reader on an emotional roller coaster, gently rocking us back and forth through sadness to acceptance, up to excitement and down to understanding, and over and under through past and present. I found myself tired, but at ease, with the characters slowly strolling through my mind.
We meet Mira, the Indian-Jewish protagonist, days before her 12th birthday and just before she joins a writing class and begins her May Day journal. Mira in the Present Tense is organized by dates instead of chapters, just as a journal would be. For the next month, we jump into Mira’s life as she reaches the highs and lows of the normal coming of age milestones- starting her period, her first crush and first heterosexual kiss, finding her own voice, and standing up to her bullies. At the same time, we join Mira as she and her family live with the impending death of her dad’s mum, Nana Josie. With Nana Josie gracefully leading the way, Mira learns that some heartbreaks are necessary if you truly love the person.
The strength of this book is in its characters, with Nana Josie stealing the spotlight. In her own words, “It is bloody hard work dying well,” but Nana Josie indeed does die well cover for Artichoke Hearts by Sita Bhramachariwith grace and kindness for all who will miss her. The author, Sita Brahmachari, places layer upon layer until each individual is shaped in our minds. Mira at school is almost painfully shy and introspective, relying only on her best girlfriend and later on a boy in her writing class. But with Nana Josie, Mira is uninhibited. Nana Josie lends Mira her creative strength and her unbound love. Pat Print is another character of note. She appears to Mira in the most honest ways at the most unexpected time, almost as if she is Mira’s guardian angel.
Mira is of Jewish and Indian descent, but beyond her name there is not much mention or focus on this fact in the story. I found this quite normalizing as our children of mixed heritage will no doubt identify with Mira for her racial make-up but everyone can identify with Mira for the struggle she is facing in the death of her grandmother. There are two other characters I would like to point out to potential readers. Mira’s crush, Jide, was a Rwandan refugee adopted by refugee camp workers. There are some small details about the atrocities in Rwanda and if children are unaware it might bring up questions. Jide talks about the physical differences between himself and his adopted parents. He also mentions how frustrating and mad it can make him when strangers make intrusive and uneducated comments. Mira’s Aunt Abi has a female partner, who we are introduced to early on. She does not play a main role and honestly, her brief introduction is quite off putting. When Mira writes, “Nana points to Abi, Aunty Mel—who is actually Abi’s girlfriend, but we call her aunty anyway,” I got the feeling that Abi having a female partner was accepted but not advertised or completely ok.

I recommended this book for ages 10-13.
Reviewer:  Amanda Setty

Grandfather Counts by Andrea Cheng

cover for Grandfather CountsAs simple as the language needs to be for a child to easily connect with the narrative, this story is dynamic in its attention to a child facing major changes in her home life when her grandfather arrives from China. Not only does Helen, our protagonist, have to give her up her bedroom and her view of the cargo train that runs outside of her room but, her mother becomes a perfectionist, and her grandfather’s is nearly mute in the household because he doesn’t speak English. But Helen, a little lost in her relationship with her grandfather, is persistent in observing him and trying to connect with him. Ultimately, she makes the connection by mistake in a sentimental manner that I felt was “sweet”. Like her, her grandfather likes watching the trains; together they count the cars and teach each other English and Chinese. Towards the end of the story, the family commits to privately learning Chinese through a computer program her Euro-American father has purchased; one gets the feeling that Helen and her grandfather are going to feel “at home” again. I was gratified to see this book give attention to the American Chinese children who don’t know Chinese and didn’t “fit in” at Chinese language school because the dominant narrative of Asian life still seems to be the immigrant story and first generation story of children who are fluent in the Chinese language. Helen and her siblings are first generation American children of mixed Euro and Chinese heritage who, despite her parents attempts to integrate Chinese culture into their lives, are not immersed in Chinese culture. Any child of immigrant parents whose lives make them consider themselves American descendents of their parents’ culture instead of members of the non-United States culture, will identify with Helen and see something of themselves in Helen’s story. All others will enjoy observing Helen’s lived identity and the multigenerational bonding experience in this simply told, complex story.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; ages 4-8

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

That’s My Mum by Henriette Barkow

Inside page--Kai with his mom and Amelia with her mom

Inside page–Kai with his mom and Amelia with her mom

That’s My Mum is a book that will have obvious significance for many in the Mixed-Heritage communities. One of the things I like about this book is that while the protagonist and first person narrator is Amelia who is brown with a white mother, her best friend whose family gets just as much space on the page is Kai, a biracial white boy whose mom is brown-skinned.Book Cover for That's My Mum by Henriette Barkow and Derek Brazelle

This is only the second picture book I’ve come across that gives attention to the fair-skinned, straight-haired children of brown mothers and the only  picture book with a full story arc that does so. The author smartly pairs Amelia and Kai to show that their emotional responses to the mother mix-up are the same. Together, Kai and Amelia face the emotionally and pragmatically challenging issue of people questioning their relationships with their mothers. Though these two friends find the mother mix-up frustrating and saddening, the language of the book remains

light while giving realistic attention to the children’s feelings and communications with people outside of their family. In a humorous twist to their story, the two friends collaborate to create a solution to their shared issue. Many of their ideas are silly, one of which they reject out of self-love and appreciation for what they look like. Ultimately, they decide to make buttons with photos of their mothers– a solution that if noticed by others would completely clarify their relationship with their parents and will put a smile on the adult reader’s face as it represents the innocence and innovation of children’s minds. Child readers may still be confused.

The author’s effort in the middle of the book to demonstrate through the narrative language, the confusion other people face when interacting with them, actually results in confusing the reader as the illustration and the wording are not entirely clear. Due to this, I’d place reading age at no younger than 6-years-old.
Published by the London based Educational Company Mantra Lingua, the book ships from England and is published in dual languages. My copy is in English with Urdu translation, pictured is an English-French copy but the book cover states that it is available in English with 22 other languages. The one drawback to this book for those outside of England –the four weeks it takes to receive the book when ordering through Amazon.com. Enjoy.

 

Recommendation: Highly Recommended especially for families with brown or yellow parents of white appearing children since this is only the second picture book that I’ve found which acknowledges these parents and children.

Book Review by Omilaju Miranda.