Diverse Kids Books–Reviews

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The Adventures of Harmony by Edward Rea

The Adventures of Harmony by Edward ReaGet this book if you want your child to see two characters in a book who are multiracial people of color as are the protagonist and the mother in The Adventures of Harmony. The book is not about their ethnicity or the family’s interracial composition. There’s only one line in the book about her parents “looking different” which isn’t even clearly about their race/ethnicity. The line is so vague that it could be a book about the fact that men and women look different. The blurb on the back cover promised a “round the world adventure” and there are four pages that reference Harmony in relation to the broader world. The illustration was very realistic which I find appealing.

Recommendation: Unenthusiastically recommended only for the purpose of showing your child reader diverse characters.

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

What A Family! By Rachel Isadora

cover What a FamilyFrom hair to toes, cousins share similar features even when those cousins appear to be of different racial heritages. In this book, lively illustrations and funny descriptions of common and rarely thought of characteristics are an alternative way to read a family tree. The book shows several generations of the family highlighting the physical links across generations of cousins.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 2-10

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

Buzz by Janet S. Wong

cover for BuzzA preschool boy with a white father and Asian mother is the first person narrator of this story of his family’s morning rituals. He adorably mimics his father’s shaving and getting dressed and “helps” his mom make morning drinks. I like the way the author and illustrator integrate the natural environment into the text via the view through the open windows and the narrative language. Starting with the opening line describing a bee feeding from a flower, the lawn mower on the front lawn, and closing with the boy sniffing a flower, nature is the quiet secondary character in this story. Other fun and sensory stimulating aspects of the story are all the sounds of the morning. Like a child’s attention span, when the protagonist sits down to breakfast, his focus switches from his parents to playing with his airplane. This play is full of sounds and characteristically pre-school age clumsiness which ends in an accident that mom must clean up. Preschoolers will identify with that moment of being pulled out of their imagination into the real world by a spill they caused and still being kissed by mom despite the mistake. The illustrator, Margaret Chodos-Irvine, makes great use of the page, a number of times choosing to paint several scenes on one page. Although this story feels short, it is a fun and sensory stimulating read.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 0-7

Reviewer:  Omilaju Miranda

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman

cover for My Basmati Bat MitzvahI sucked this book down like a mango lassi. It was smooth, sweet and went down quickly. So quickly, in fact I read it in 24 hours. And then like my girls, I sat back, took a breath and dove back in for a second reading, running my finger along the side of the cup looking for some goodness that I left behind.
Paula J. Freedman created a strong female character, for which I thank her. Tara Feinstein is the girl we all want our daughters to be. She has her own fashion style—
vintage. She plays hoops with her best boyfriend. She still plays dress up at the age of 12 with her best girlfriend. She is pumped to join the robotics team. She is not afraid to stand up for herself, although she is learning to manage it with words and not fists. She also stands up for others, especially when they need a friend. She gives second chances, preferring to see the good in people. She questions her beliefs and seeks for answers.
But life is not all easy peazy lemon squeezy for Tara. She and her friends are going through a season of preteen changes—bat mitzvahs, changing bodies, shifting relationships and first crushes. As Tara prepares for her own bat mitzvah she struggles to understand how she can be Indian, like her mother, Jewish, like her father and remain herself. How can she be Jewish if she is not even sure she believes in God? If she goes through with this Bat Mitzvah, does that mean she is picking her “Jewish side” over her “Indian side”? Will she only date and marry Jewish boys, like her other Jewish friends? My Basmati Bat Mitzvah raises topics many of our bi-racial, bi-cultural children will face or are facing. Tara’s voice is honest and sturdy, allowing readers from all backgrounds to easily put themselves in her place.
On my second read of the book, I unfortunately did not find many leftover bits of goodness stuck to the side of my cup. I found myself bothered by the underdeveloped characters, orbiting around Tara. I wanted more connection with her parents. Tara’s Jewish Gran and her Indian Auntie seem a bit too stereotypical for my liking. And many of Freedman’s characters seemed like superficial offerings- the immigrant child gone wild, the Korean adopted child, the always in trouble child with ADHD, the Muslim child whose father jokes about getting her married at the age of 12, and the perfect child who turns out to have trichotillomania and problems with shoplifting. Perhaps this book would be a good fit for a book group or classroom, so readers could find ways to make these distinctive characters more vibrant and “finish” them. I was also bothered that the robotics club storyline just disappeared. It held such promise of a preteen girl not only psyched about science but also talented, and then offered us nothing except for scenes of teenage romance and angst. The one bright point in my re-read was to explore Tara’s special relationship with her open-minded and very patient rabbi. Every teenager needs to connect with a trustworthy adult outside of their family.

Recommendation: I recommend this book for ages 12-14. The writing itself is suited for ages 9+ but some of the topics, such as, first heterosexual kiss and a friend suffering from trichotillomania might be better received by an older reader.

Book Reviewer: Amanda Setty

Book Review for How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman

cover for How My Parents Learned to EatA Caucasian USAmerican sailor and Japanese student fall in love after dating for a year but they’ve never eaten together! In a suspenseful, delightful story we learn how they overcame their anxieties over how to eat “Japanese” (with chopsticks) and “Western” (with knife and fork) and got engaged. The narration is sweet and this is a simply told, dynamic story that you and your children will enjoy.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Age: 5+

Book Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda