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…)

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

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

Willow by Denise Brennan-Nelson

Cover for WillowWillow, the protagonist of this book has a personality reminiscent of Eloise and Madeline. Her stubborn determination to be imaginative and artistic even as her art teacher, Miss Hawthorne tries to break the spirit of creativity with rigid rules eventually transforms her teacher. Willow’s open, loving spirit is innocent and generous and the story is an inspiring example of adult-child interaction. The illustrations are energetic, riveting paintings that transport the reader into a parallel universe of creativeWorld. I’ve already gifted this book to one of my daughter’s friends. I bet you’ll find it just as infectious and worthy of sharing.

When one reads Willow, it is easy to believe that you are reading about a child of color, however I bought the second book in the series, Willow and the Snow Day Dance and the character’s parents are both white with no explanation of adoption so I’m thinking that I’m wrong about her being a child of color. In addition, when I read A Fire Engine for Ruthie, I noticed, with the illustrations of Ruthie that it is Cyd Moore’s style to draw her girl protagonists with wavy krinkly hair (although that doesn’t negate Willow’s brown skin). I emailed the illustrator, Cyd Moore and the publisher, Sleeping Bear Press asking if Willow is a child of color and have not yet received an answer. Despite that, I’m including Willow on this site because sometimes children just need to see their likeness on the page in a book with a real story and a child with a dynamic personality, and there are plenty of children of color who can look at Willow and see themselves in her light brown skin and wavy hair that grows out instead of down.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 5+

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

Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan

cover for Becoming Naomi LeonNaomi Soledad Leon Outlaw is a ten year old girl who lives with her great-grandmother and disabled brother in Avocado Acres Trailer Rancho in Lemon Tree, California. She hasn’t seen her mother in seven years, and her father is in Mexico. Naomi is an avid reader, list maker and soap carver who is devoted to her family and loves works. Her world transforms one afternoon when her glamorous looking mother, who has changed her name from Terri Lynn to Skyla, shows up unannounced with armfuls of gifts. Although Naomi is thrilled to meet her mother, she feels overwhelmed. When it emerges that Skyla is an alcoholic who has been in and out of rehab and that she not interested in Owen, Naomi’s brother, because has a disability, Naomi becomes quickly disillusioned.
The novel follows Naomi’s coming of age story and her development into a young woman. Her unconventional family is made up of her great-grandmother and brother, but also includes her neighbors from Mexico, and her estranged father. In an effort to reconnect with the children’s father – and to thwart Skyla’s attempts to take Naomi from her home – their great-grandmother takes them on an impromptu road trip to Mexico in their airstream trailer, named Baby Beluga. They arrive in the country right before La Noche de los Rabanos, The Night Of The Radishes, a Mexican festival where carvers create elaborate artwork out of radishes. The Leons, they find out, are renowned as carvers, and Naomi experiences a deep cultural immersion in discovering her Mexican roots, wearing a traditional Mexican Village woman’s blouse and huraches, and carving radishes with her friends.
‘Becoming Naomi Leon’ is a poetic, poignant novel with excellent character development and gentle treatment of difficult subject matter. It’s a classic coming of age story that incorporates the positive aspects of cultural mixing, and handles this complex family structure with grace and insight. The discovery of the long lost Mexican father is the highlight of the narrative.

Recommendation: Any advanced reader will enjoy this book, which could also be a good book to read to a child who is ready for chapter books to read aloud.


Book Reviewer: Jill Moffett

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