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I am Me by Karla Kushkin

I am Me cover by Karla Kushkin

Concisely written, Karla Kushkin’s I Am Me is a biracial little girl’s declaration of pride in both the physical characteristics that connect her to the people in her family as well as her self-pride in her individuality. She is a mixture of various characteristics of her father, her mother, and their respective families. Although the race or ethnicity of her father is not clear, he is a man of color, while her mother is Caucasian. With tawny skin and dark hair like her father and light green eyes like her mother, she is an apparent blend of two distinctly different ethnicities. Dyanna Wolcott’s illustrations emphasize the physical contrast between the two families (and the differences between the little girl and her parents) as they mingle together on an outing at the park filled with swimming, bike-riding, and a picnic. The text and illustrations are rendered in a manner that mimics a child’s innocent observations and the playfulness of the narrative and images makes this book visually and audibly attractive and relatable to a younger audience.

Recommendation: recommended ages 3+

Reviewer: LaTonya Jackson

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Mommy, Why’s Your Skin So Brown by Maria Leonard Olsen

cover of Mommy why's your skin so brownThe brown skinned, multiracial mixed heritage mother of two children who are lighter than her discusses with her children why she is darker than both of them and much darker than the son who has fair skin, silky blond hair, and blue eyes. The book reads as if the author simply transcribed a conversation that she had with her children. Her anger or annoyance with people who were asking the author if she was the nanny (according to interviews she has given) comes through evocatively in the tone of the narrative as well as on the book’s back cover blurb, which both address the necessity to admonish people to not allow their “curiosity to overwhelm their manners”.

That is a salient point that many parents of interracial families would like to communicate to those who rudely ask questions like “Are you the nanny?” “Is she adopted?” “Is that child yours?”, which confuse and sometimes sadden our children. However, in a children’s book, the tone of the mother’s frustration doesn’t communicate as a part of the children’s characterization and reads as the words of an angry author. It just doesn’t feel like it is from the children, and there’s nothing in the narrative to balance it off.

Points of the narrative that could have been the basis for beautiful illustrations of the entire family are missed. This conversation between the mother and her children is boring as a book read to a child and there are points that actually get confusing where the mother narrator is discussing where everybody got their different features (i.e. the mother speaks of getting her own dark skin from her grandmother, herself being a color in between both her parents, and her son getting blue eyes from his father and the mother’s grandfather) yet there are no images of the relatives to accompany this monologue.

This lack of illustration accompanied by no mention of the mother’s actual ethnicity (research into the author reveals she is biracial Filipina and this story is from her personal life) seems like a strong commitment to being vague. I’m sure the author doesn’t mention the ethnic heritages of her family so that the book could be used universally by the many parents of color of all ethnicities and races who face this scenario but because this book’s only story line is this family, the absence of a discussion of the family’s ethnicity and actual heritage leaves a palpable void. With no characterization for any of the characters in the book and a narration primarily from the mother’s perspective, sadly there is no story here. This is such a loss in part because this is the only picture book I’ve read that focuses primarily on the biracial child with almost exclusively Caucasian features. The other books which even present these children, present them as part of a duo led by brown biracial children or as part of an ensemble cast.

While I do not see this as an enjoyable read for children of any age as a standalone book, this book could easily serve as an interesting guide for adults on how to discuss this matter with their children and the points that can be covered regarding family features. If used in that matter, I would definitely suggest incorporating photos of the referenced family members into the conversation. (buy)

Recommendation: If your family is similar to the one in this book then, couple this book with your own family photos and exploration of your family tree or, for people with all types of family constructs and teachers, couple this book with either That’s My Mum by Henriette Barkow or My Mom is a Foreigner but Not to Me by Julianne Moore and this book can lead off the discussion of the serious aspects of a family dealing with people’s reactions to a mother (or father) looking racially different from her children.

 

Recommendations: For Adults to lead discussions on interracial families and phenotype differences.

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

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.

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

Adventure Annie goes to Kindergarten’ by Toni Buzeo

cover for Adventure Annie Goes to KindergartenAnnie Grace starts her day with her mom who helps her get ready and takes her to her first day of Kindergarten where Annie tries to create adventures for herself because, after all, Annie Grace is Adventure Annie. She gets into all sorts of trouble around the classroom and school as she single-mindedly tries to find an “adventure”. Eventually, the two quiet, obedient students who her teacher sends to get the milk for snack time get lost and Annie gets her adventure. Mr. Todd charges her with the task of going to find the “milk getters” who are lost. And sure enough, with the help of the walkie talkies that she packed in her adventure toolkit, she finds her classmates and the milk, and brings the wagon of milk back to the class. So, Annie the Adventurer gets to be a super heroine and in the end she is in her mom’s arms with a hug and a smile. Although the story was a little banal and repetitive, Adventure Annie is clearly being raised by a single mom and she’s having a rip-roaring time being herself.


Recommendation: Unenthusiastically Recommended; Ages: 4+
Book 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.

little blue and little yellow by Leo Lionni

cover for little blue and little yellowlittle blue and little yellow is a cute book with two ragged-edged dots as the protagonists. One dot is blue and one dot is yellow. They hug and become one green dot that plays throughout the day with other dot friends. Then they go home, first to blue dot’s home then to yellow dot’s home and the parents of both reject green dot because they don’t recognize their child in the green dot. When green dot cries, blue and yellow tears come out until “they are ALL tears”. We see a bunch of little blue dashes and a bunch of little yellow dashes then we see the individual yellow and blue dot again. As their original selves, blue dot and yellow dot go home and their parents rejoice by hugging them and then the other parents. When the yellow and blue parents hug each other, they see that they also turn green when they hug. The difference for the parents is they do not allow themselves to become one new green dot. Instead, they visit each other and go out to watch their children play again with part of their green union intact while on either side they are their blue and yellow selves. They are now a role model for little blue and little yellow who are, like their parents, walking around and playing in the same configuration, which is blue and yellow on the edges and green in the middle. They play with other dots of different colors, some of which are also blending together.

This book functions on multiple levels that children of increasing age groups up to adult will be able to discuss and analyze: 1. It teaches children about color combining to make new colors; 2. It teaches children that you can have fun as friends and be affectionate with people of different colors and if you marry you make a whole unique creation. 3. It teaches that you can combine in a relationship while also being yourself hence green in the middle of yellow and blue on the edges. 4. It teaches that when families become united through marriage, even the in-laws change into a new creation. 5. It also teaches that when parents don’t recognize their children because of the way they have changed in their new relationship, they often reject them and it isn’t until they once again recognize their children, perhaps in the arrival of grandchildren, that they accept their children and their children’s chosen relationship but only the most advanced readers will get number 5.

I found it thought provoking on a simple and complex level. It was age appropriate and sparked questions from my 3-year-old daughter while making me recognize it as criticism of exclusionary, familial rejection and prejudiced social practices as well as a critique of in-law relationships especially in cross cultural families.


Recommendation: Very Highly Recommended; Ages 3+
Book Review by Omilaju Miranda