Diverse Kids Books–Reviews

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Justice Pon di Road by Aliona Gibson

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cover for Justice Pon di roadWhat I like about this book more than anything is the idea. A single mother who lives in the United States with her son Justice, takes him on a trip to her Jamaican homeland where he is immersed in a new culture and learns a new language. While they are walking along the roads (pon di road), they meet a variety of adult characters running businesses from small shops or road side stands. Justice gets to try new types of food and meet people who instantly adore him as he learns new phrases. The tone of the narrative voice is fun and I find it appealing that there are positive representations of entrepreneurial black Jamaicans, as well as positive representations of African Diaspora people with uncombed, natural kinky, coily hair and dread locks. Also, there’s a great historical timeline and glossary in the back of the book, which are valuable teaching tools.

What is not appealing is that the narrative is just too long for this story; the illustrations which look like prematurely exposed film photos are often eerie, the detail is difficult to see, and are often not well paired with the narrative. The discontinuity of the illustrations often occurs because one page of the narrative will go on and on and the only thing illustrated is the experience Justice had in the first paragraph or first sentence. I think if a teacher is looking for a way to make a history lesson on Jamaica or the Caribbean fun, sharing the first few pages of this book and the rich glossary and history section in the back with a classroom would be valuable. The simple tone of the narrative and the stroller riding toddler protagonist indicate that the story is targeted to ages 1-5 but the length and history section are more appropriate for ages 7-9. I don’t know if the narrative will hold the attention of either age group for its entirety but an adult who reads the book in advance and edits the story for their child’s attention span will share a unique story with their child and learn more about Jamaica than just the music with which we are familiar.

Recommendation: Recommended for educational purposes to adults who will work around the narrative. Ages 2-9.

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

Oprah: The Little Speaker by Carole Bosaton Weatherford

cover for Oprah the Little SpeakerThis book about the first six years of Oprah Winfrey’s life, being raised by her single grandmother has received strong reviews from the School Library Journal and Booklist. The book presents Oprah as a child who knew she was special and wanted to be paid to speak as her career; her childhood vision came to fruition once she was an adult. The illustrations are inspiring with language accessible and inviting to small children.

Recommendation: Highly recommended; ages 5+

‘Mine, Mine, Mine’ by Shelly Becker

cover of Mine Mine MineThis is a great story about Gail, the protagonist, learning to share. As an exciting break in the pleasant, prose of most of the books I’ve been reading lately, this story has conflict between two children, a tantrum over not wanting to share, youthful sarcasm, an arc of growth on the part of the 1st person narrator and it is all told in accurate rhyme, the melody of which I am certain contributed to holding my daughter’s attention so intently that she only interrupted me with one question during the read. The protagonist who doesn’t want to share her toys with her visiting cousin and then decides to share disgusting cast-off items, does by the end of the story— after her mother speaks to her twice and models sharing for her—learn to share and the reader is the recipient of a surprising shared gift. After we finished the story my daughter did something she rarely does—she took the book from me and not only asked if she could sleep with it (that she does all the time), she began to “read” the story back to me, telling it as closely as she could from memory. Sharing is a skill that most, if not all small children resist, so coupled with an energetic, melodic story, the topic captivates the young child’s interest. This book is sure to be a hit with your little one.
Although this book does not mention the protagonist and her mommy being the only ones in the household, it covers a large span of time in the protagonist’s life in which we never see a second parent. The first time I read it, I also thought the protagonist was a Mixed Heritage child although upon second read I’m not sure but there are certainly mixed heritage children who will see themselves reflected in Gail’s physical features especially in contrast to her mother’s and her cousin’s phenotypes.


Recommendation: Highly recommended
Ages: 3+
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

When Mama Gets Home by Marisabina Russo

When Mama Gets HomeEvery kid is self-absorbed, wants all their mother’s attention, sees the world through the lens of “mommies and daddies” and tolerates their siblings as much as they have to just to please their mother. So is the reality that many experience and that Russo writes in When Mama Gets Home. Three siblings begin dinner as they eagerly await their mother’s arrival from work, then each of them ambush her with their own agenda before she even has a chance to take off her coat. The mother is a diplomat, finding a way to give each child the attention s/he needs.  Although the ten-year-old protagonist has a teenage brother and sister, the protagonist gets the most time with Mama as she needs her for the end of night and bedtime routine. As parents, we always love stories that include the bedtime routine and carry the reader to bed and this one delivers, ending with a “goodnight” tuck in. When Mama Gets Home demonstrates how a family led by a single mother must be a team on which the children are major players and the mother communicates with a strong level of patience in order to make sure each child feels loved and heard.

 Recommendation: recommended; ages 3+

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman

cover for Amazing GraceGrace has a limitless imagination. Like many of the children who will read this story, she likes to dress up as any character she has ever seen or can imagine from spiders to pirates. When her teacher announces that the class is going to stage “Peter Pan”, Grace wants to play the lead role of Peter despite the fact that two of her classmates tell her she can’t play Peter because he is a boy and he’s white. Grace who lives with her single mother and grandmother goes home sad, and her mom and grandmother assure her that she can play Peter if she wants. Grace memorizes Peter Pan’s lines and Grandma even takes her to the ballet to see an Afro-Trinidadian friend of the family play Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet”. Grace wins the part of Peter and does an amazing job playing the role. Every child with an imagination will connect with Grace. Children of single mothers or parents who get tired but still make time to play will see themselves reflected in Grace’s family. My 3-year-old expected the story to continue so the fullness of the story arc will register more with readers instead of pre-literate children.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 6-9

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams

A chair for my mother coverWith the dedication to giving every single detail that is so commonly heard in a child’s story telling, Vera B. Williams spins a believable first person narrative in A Chair for My Mother . Rosa, the protagonist lives with her mother and her grandmother who have survived a fire and are saving their coins to buy a new chair because all their old furniture was “spoiled” in the fire. The day of the fire, Rosa got new sandals and her mother got new pumps; other details include the fact that one day, while helping out at her mother’s waitress job, Rosa peeled all the onions for the onion soup. Rosa, her mother, and grandmother take turns in the chair at the story before they buy it and take turns enjoying it once it is in their home. This is another Caldecott Honor book for Vera B. Williams. I like the consistency of the child’s voice, the cohesiveness of the family, support of the community that donates almost all the furniture for their new apartment, and colorful, emotionally balanced way that Williams deals with the sensitive issue of surviving a fire. At one point my interest did drift—I got a little bored but this goes hand in hand with the believability of Rosa’s voice. Children will often give you every single detail they can remember which can be challenging to entertain in real life as it was for me for two pages of the book. Vera B. Williams has written two other books in the Rosa series: Something Special For Me and Music, Music For Everyone. Rosa is a child whose first-person narrative story deserves a place in a child’s library.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 5-8

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

Mama, I’ll Give You the World by Roni Schotter

Cover of Mama I'll Give You the World“When Papa was around, Mama loved to dance, but Mama doesn’t dance anymore,” is the first line of Mama I’ll Give You the World and that semi-vague statement is all that is ever said about the absent Papa that lives in the subtext of this children’s story. Perhaps he has passed away, maybe he has abandoned the family; either way, children being raised by single mothers with no father in their lives will feel like their family construct is reflected in Luisa and her mother’s family. Luisa’s mother wants to give Luisa the world that is “so big. So much more for you to know. So much more for you to see.” And that starts every day with Luisa doing her homework beneath a palm tree in the beauty salon and Luisa’s mother saving for Luisa’s college tuition. Doing homework looks exotic, Luisa’s working class world looks like a holiday getaway.
The text is accessible prose that brings the reader smoothly and easily into Luisa’s daily life with her mother in Walter’s World of Beauty– the beauty salon where her mother works. As is so often the case in real life, the salon where Luisa’s mother works is a community gathering place where Luisa’s extended family bonds. The story is a narrative of Luisa communicating with all the adults (hairdressers and clients in her mother’s hair salon) to organize a special gift for her mama—a secret gift that even surprises the reader. Luisa’s dedication to her mother culminates in a climax that made me cry as her daughter celebrates her mother’s birthday by connecting her mother to the past. In the midst of the celebration, the story subtlety introduces a new suitor who has been a trusted friend throughout the book.

Luisa is an observant, sensitive, intelligent character who loves her mom, communicates impressively, and with the realistic precociousness of a child, who while protected by many adults in her life, also lives with the worry about her mother’s happiness and past that overshadows their lives. The illustration is fanciful and engaging, telling the story of the loving community to which Luisa belongs.
Luisa’s world is diverse, filled with people of all races and may ethnicities. Although there are no Spanish words spoken, several of the characters bear Spanish names and the full range of physical features found amongst white, tan and moreno Latinos. Children whose families are from many parts of Latin America—whether the Spanish Caribbean, Central, or South America will feel reflected in the characters represented. Additionally, there are two male hair dressers working with Luisa’s mother—one of whom seems to be slightly effeminate so that without saying it directly, we see that Luisa lives in a diverse and all inclusive world.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

 

If I Were Your Father by Margaret Park Bridges

If I were your fatherThis book is a feel good conversation between father and son as the son shares his unrealistic imagination of what an ideal father should be and his father entertains the son’s musings as they move through the mundane activities of their day. The illustrations do not always coincide with the dialogue which may be a little confusing for children under five but red print for the son and blue print for the father’s words make it incredibly easy to know who is speaking through out. No matter what your family construct, you’re going to love the repartee between parent and child in this book but with no mother present, this is definitely a book with which children, especially sons of single fathers will be able to connect and of course is a good way to introduce the idea that some families are led by a single father to the children in your life.

 

Recommendation: Recommended; Ages 4+

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda