Diverse Kids Books–Reviews

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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

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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

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

Bluish by Virginia Hamiliton

cover for Bluish by Virginia HamiltonMost of the time I pick books for my children based on their experiences so they know they are not the only ones. Many times, I pick books to introduce adventures we plan to do or places we plan to go. Often I pick books that reinforce our family’s values or our ways of being. But sometimes I come across a book with a new character—a character with a life story we have not encountered yet, but I know we will.

Dreenie, a fifth grader, just starting a new school is looking for a friend she can “talk things over with and do special things with.” Instead, she cares for her precocious little sister and a somewhat mixed-up and needy best friend. Then, she meets Natalie whom everyone calls “Bluish” for the color of her skin. Bluish arrives in her classroom in a wheelchair with a puppy on her lap and a knitted hat on her head. She comes and goes from school according to her own schedule and is hard for Dreenie to figure out, so Dreenie begins to write a journal all about Bluish. Through a class project, the two girls slowly become comfortable with each other and eventually become friends. Prompted by her visit to the doctor, the classroom teacher and the students have a heart-to-heart discussion about Natalie and we learn she has Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. The rest of the class slowly adjusts to having Natalie in class and begins to accept her ups and downs depending on how she is feeling that day. Natalie, also, finds her own way to join the class giving out hand-made knitted hats and teaching her classmates how to play dreidel.
The image on the cover of the book shows three girls in knit hats with varying skin tones and facial features. Natalie is identified as Jewish and Black and her mom bristles at the idea of kids calling her “Blewish”, not realizing her nickname “Bluish” has more to do with blue tint of her skin tone because of her illness. Dreenie and the third girl on the cover are never labeled with a particular heritage although Dreenie calls herself a “sorta sweet chocolate color” and calls Tuli “more honey color.” At one point, Dreenie’s little sister taunts her by saying, “I know who your mama ain’t, Drain. Because you sure ain’t one of us Anneva and Gerald Browns!” causing me to wonder if Dreenie was adopted but there is no more mention of this leaving me confused. But I am not the only one confused– honey-colored Tuli is right there with me. Tulifoolie pretends to speak Spanish singing out phrases, “chica-chica, do the mambo” and calling folks “muchcha” but is told by a Spanish speaking girl that she “gives Spanish kids a bad name.” Tuli lives with her grandmom in a not-so-good part of town. Tuli’s aunt is mentioned but never a mention of a mother or father–and no mention to confirm if she is indeed Latina. Your young reader might not have the need to know the exact heritage of Dreenie and Tuli and therefore might escape the confusion I experienced. All three girls play a major role in the story and present very different individuals who come together as friends. And that is a theme with which many readers can relate.

Recommendation: This book is appropriate for readers ages 9-14.
Reviewer:  Amanda Setty