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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PBS Kids’ “Superwhy!”

SuperwhylogoIf you have not yet discovered the PBSKids show “SuperWhy,” discover it. The main characters—Whyatt/SuperWhy, PrincessPea/ Princess Presto, Red/Wonder Red, Alpha Pig, and Webster are children and pet superheroes living in storybook village whose special powers are related to literacy i.e spelling, phonics, writing and reading. In each episode they help solve a child’s problems by flying into a classic fairy tale in which the child’s problem parallels that of the fairytale protagonist. Then, the SuperReaders save the day by changing the story so that the child in trouble and fairytale protagonist triumph over their issue. This show helps the toddler and preschooler engage in a fun adventure that builds their valuation of reading and helps the early reader learn reading concepts. They cover a full range of reading comprehension and word construction concepts. This is definitely ELA enrichment in the form of entertainment.
The lead character, Whyatt, as described by the SuperWhy wikis and obvious when you watch the show, is definitively olive skinned as is his family. While their ethnicity is not discussed, he has an appearance that many in the mixed and multiracial communities would see as a reflection of themselves. Princess Pea, a green-eyed, brown-skinned girl with waste length wavy hair is actually mixed. In the second episode of the first season, the team flies into the story of Princess Pea’s mother who is the original Princess of “The Princess and the Pea” where we meet her mother who is of African Descent and father who is Caucasian. We rarely see the families of the Super Readers but every episode is going to be a fun, learning episode.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended

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

Dream Dancer by Jill Newsome and Claudio Munoz

cover for dream dancerA ten-year-old dance prodigy who happens to be of mixed heritage (Latina and white) breaks her foot and goes through the emotional and physical process of recovery until she can dance again. I say “happens to be” because her ethnic heritage is never discussed in the book; we just see her parents and grandmother are of different races. Easy language and an enchanting storyline tell of Lily’s transference of her emotional attachment to dancing to dancing doll. Breezy, evocative writing and illustrationcarries the reader through Lily and her doll’s experience in this story that portrays a child literally falling and getting back up again on a grand scale and rebuilding her dreams.

 

 Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 3+
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

Jalapeno Bagels by Natasha Wing

cover for Jalapeno BagelsWith beautiful illustrations from Robert Casilla, this story which reads like a training and orientation day in a bakery, comes to life. This is a first person narrative from Pablo, the son of a Mexican mother and Jewish father who own a bakery together. Pablo has to decide what to take to school for International Day and throughout the story as he helps his mother make Mexican pastries and his father make Jewish pastries, he questions if each pastry is the one he should take to his school. A story peppered with Pablo’s easy translations of his parents’ Spanish and Yiddish words of expression and names of food, makes one feel like they are in a regular day in the life of Pablo and his parents. On this day, Pablo decides to take Jalapeno Bagels to school because, like him, they represent the cultures of both of his parents. The back of the book contains two recipes and a glossary of the terms used throughout the book. While I think this is a valuable representation of a Mixed Heritage family of Mexican/Jewish ethnicities which gives some history of the two ethnicities, the most exciting aspect of the book is its title.


Recommendation: Unenthusiastically recommended for the sake of diversity representation; Ages 4+
Book Review by Omilaju Miranda.