Diverse Kids Books–Reviews

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Perfect Lil Blends by Luke Whitehead

cover for Perfect Lil BlendsPerfect 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…)

Lulu’s Busy Day

Cover Lulu's busy dayLulu’s Busy Day is the sequel to Hello, Lulu and this time around we learn about the daily activities of our main character (while her heritage is again sidestepped). Drawing, visiting the park with a friend, and building castles is all in a day’s work for Lulu. While the first Lulu book visually suggests that she’s biracial by introducing us to her parents, this book also prefers to visually cue us in on her differences: her brown, puffy hair, dark eyes, and tan complexion. So while she looks a little different compared to many popular storybook characters, she still does all the same things as everyone else. Thus, this would be a good book to share with your child to introduce them to a diverse character—just make sure you point it out to your young reader.

Recommendation: Recommended to introduce young readers to diverse-looking characters; Ages 2-5

Reviewer: Kaitlyn Wells

Hello, Lulu by Caroline Uff

Cover Hello Lulu by Caroline UffHello, Lulu is a great book for beginner readers, but not necessarily the ideal book if you’re teaching your little one about diversity. The book introduces the reader to a little girl named Lulu and the important people and things in her life. The reader learns about Lulu and all of the members of her family. The board book itself features brightly colored backgrounds to help Lulu’s family members stand out. So while the illustrations visually cue us in on the family’s interracial composition, it’s never verbally explained. Thus, to bypass this subliminal message, you may want to point out the fact that Lulu’s parents are different races from the beginning. One other note: From learning about what Lulu’s favorite snacks are to how many pets Lulu has, your child is sure to notice a correlation or two in their own life (racial composition aside). 

 Recommendation: Recommended to introduce young readers to diverse-looking characters; Ages 2-5  (buy)

Book Reviewers: Kaitlyn Wells

You Be Me and I’ll Be You by Pili Mandelbaum

cover you be me, I'll be youA well intentioned father tries to help his brown-skinned biracial daughter feel comfortable with her skin color by plaiting his straight hair, donning black face and having her don white face. I was almost too insulted to continue reading but out of duty, I finished the book. The narrative attempts to redeem itself by showing people laying out on the beach tanning, using rollers to make their hair curly, and pointing out that every one wants features they can’t have. I don’t know if this did well in Belgium where it was originally published but as a U.S.American, I would never read this to my child.

Recommendation: Not Recommended.

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

One Love by Cedella Marley, Bob Marley and Vanessa Brantley-Newton

cover for One Love Cedella and Bob MarleyLook closely at the illustrations as you read this book and each time you will discover something new. The words are the lyrics of Bob Marley’s song “One Love”, the illustrations tell the story of community togetherness. A little girl waves goodbye to her loving mom and dad and walks into the friendly world outside her door, which is filled with nature, happy neighbors and close friends who play, plant, and recycle together. The illustrations are vivid, exciting and contagiously spread a smile across your face. Although the only obvious racial phenotypes are Caucasian, African Diaspora and black/white mixed, the full range of phenotypes within those ethnicities is represented. Children of all ages will enjoy this book and those who remember the song will love sharing the song with a new generation as they follow the illustrations telling the story of community responsibility and cooperation to repair, rebuild, and landscape a neighborhood park in disrepair.  Simple, loving, lyrical of course, and with such strong illustration dependent story telling that this is a great book for the pre-literate child to practice decoding and multiple levels of “reading” comprehension, which is what I did with my pre-reading daughter. This is a book everyone should have and all who have children should read and discuss with their kids. (buy)

Recommendation: Highly recommended Ages 2+

Nappy Hair by Carolivia Herron

cover for Nappy Hair by Carolivia HerronCarolivia Herron’s Nappy Hair tells the story of Brenda, a dark-skinned girl with a massive bush of kinky, untamed hair towering above her slender frame.   The true protagonist in this story is Brenda’s hair, which takes on a vivacious life of its own as Brenda’s elder, Uncle Mordecai, shares with the rest of the family at a picnic the colorful and rhythmic story of how Brenda ended up with all that nappy hair. Setting this book apart from other stories that I have read that are designed to affirm positive self-image in Black children, Nappy Hair does not present the main character as having a problem with either who she is or her hair’s texture. Sure, there were other characters who express disapproval of her tightly coiled hair—namely, members of the Heavenly choir who are present during her creation. They pitied her hair to such an extent that they have the audacity to reproach God by asking:

“Why you gotta be so mean, why you gotta be so willful, why you gotta be so ornery, thinking about giving that nappy, nappy hair to that innocent little child?”

Nevertheless, even at the very beginning of the story, Brenda exudes confidence —her head is always held high, she wears a wide smile, and she refuses to allow family members to tame her maverick coils with brushes, hair spray, and broken-toothed combs.

For centuries, hair has been a sensitive issue in Black communities in the United States, and with the recent revitalization of a natural hair movement committed to the ethos of expressing black pride by embracing afros, locs, and braids in lieu of hair relaxers and other chemicals, Herron’s Nappy Hair (which was published in 1997) remains a relevant teaching tool for parents, mentors, and educators. This book presents a clever call and response narrative that may be shared with boys and girls of all races and hair types to encourage them to love how their hair naturally grows from their scalp and to encourage an appreciation for how they may be different from others but equally as beautiful. When I first read this book to my third grade class five years ago, the students laughed in derision at the title and at how Uncle Mordecai was describing Brenda’s hair. In the community where my students were growing up, “nappywas a cruel word that connotes the polar opposite of good and beautiful; and, they would often use the term to make fun of each other. However, through a read-aloud with them, they realized Uncle Mordecai’s comments about Brenda’s hair being nappy were not derogatory at all. In fact, at the very end of his story, he proclaims:

“I got me at long last this cute little brown baby girl…And she’s got the nappiest hair in the world.”

Notably, Herron’s Nappy Hair also alludes to the profound obligation that adults have in shaping children’s self-esteem. In fact, the book conveys the message that children look to us for affirmation, reassurance, and to learn standards of beauty. Brenda was blessed with an Uncle Mordecai who spoke a life of rich heritage, strength, and beauty into her and her naturally kinky coils—a life that says you are perfect just the way you are. This book could serve as a springboard for parents and educators to engage in that same edifying dialogue with the children in their lives.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; ages 6+ (with parental guidance to avoid misinterpretation) (buy)

Book Review by: La Tonya Jackson

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.

I Love My Hair by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley

Cover I love my hairThis board book is a first person narrative that lets you hear the defined voice of a child on a journey of loving herself led by her own mother’s love. The book doesn’t fall into the categories to which this page is dedicated however, it is a wonderful celebration of the realistic challenges and versatility of Afro-curly/ kinky coily hair that I think many on this page will find value in reading it with, and for, your children with Afro-curly hair. Discussing everything from necessary oils, the occasional tear-inducing pain of combing and the wonder of hair that braids well, curls into the air and afros out, If you are looking for a resource outside of yourself to validate the natural beauty of your child’s hair, this is one of the best books I’ve seen. As there is no father mentioned, single mothers can enjoy this book as a reflection of their relationship with their children as well.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 4+
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda