Diverse Kids Books–Reviews

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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.

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

Book Review for Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match/Marisol McDonald No Combina by Monica Brown

cover for Marisol Mcdonald Doesn't MatchJust looking at the cover image of this book—a little red-head with toasty brown complexion and Punky Brewster clothing hanging upside down, pink and blue polka dot wrapped pig-tails flapping against her arms, I couldn’t wait to read it. With the title written in English and Spanish, I knew it was going to be a fun read. And, it didn’t disappoint. Once finished, I was so excited, I had to take a few minutes to calm down before writing this review. Marisol embodies and off-beat charm: think Pippi Longstocking, think Eloise, think Madeline; except, Marisol is a Mixed Heritage, Peruvian-Scottish-American and her story is written in English and Spanish with some dialogue in both languages as well. But she is just as confident, plucky, and determined as the other children’s stories’ heroines. Just as her friends and family say she doesn’t match because of her freckled brown skin and red hair (“the color of carrots” says her cousin; “the color of fire”, says Marisol), they say she doesn’t match because she puts peanut butter and jelly on tortillas, they say she doesn’t match because she paints stars in the same sky as the sun, Marisol says all these are good and tasty and unique. Then a friend says she couldn’t match if she wanted to. In true scrappy style, Marisol responds to this comment as if it is a challenge and tries to “match”. Matching is woefully, sad-faced boring until her teacher gives her a note encouraging her to be her mixed up, non-matching self because that is mismatching is true to her. So Marisol in the end is dressed in her Peruvian hat with pink ballet tutu, polka dot skirt and striped leg warmers. She likes herself not matching in every single way. You and your kid will like her too.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended;  Age range: 4-8

 

Book Review by Omilaju Miranda