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Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quinero #WeNeedDiverseBooks #DiverseKidsBooks #DiverseYANovels #BilingualKidsBooks
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is told through the journal entries of Gabi Hernandez, a light-skinned bilingual Mexican-American 17-year-old girl with a lot going on the home front. One of her two best friends is gay, while the other is unexpectedly pregnant, her mother is overbearing, and her father is a committed meth addict. Yet, Gabi still finds joy in her life.
She’s got a lot of angst and a dark sense of humor, which help her deal with her less than perfect circumstances and makes her one of the most relatable characters I’ve ever read. She’s smart, but not brilliant. Strong, but often shy, she usually thinks of the best reaction to a situation only after it’s already happened. She’s self-conscious about her body, lack of money, and drug addict father but not crippled under the weight of these worries. In her diary, she curses regularly, but in the rebellious teenage “I-just-learned-swearing-feels-good” kind of way. Gabi’s two biggest life goals are to get into Berkeley and get a boyfriend. She works diligently at both. (more…)
One thing that is important to do when considering books for your children, is to consider the wholeness of a book. Not only should we encourage books which highlight diverse stories, we should also encourage innovation and cultural understanding. “Just Like Home / Como En Mi Tierra” satisfies the first, but is lacking in the latter.
The story follows a girl who emigrates to the United States from Mexico (assumed). The girl is anywhere from 4 – 9 years old, but her age and the age of the intended audience is not specific. The unnamed girl observes the world around her and makes comparisons: this is like home, this is not like home. The English is translated into Spanish and there is a glossary in the back.
However, there are a lot of mistakes. Namely, the title of the book in English is correctly capitalized, but the Spanish is incorrectly capitalized, which sets a very awkward tone for the book: as if the Spanish portion of this story is just tossed in for good measure. There is an air of laziness in the construction of the story and the illustrations. The book feels and looks like those 50 cent books your mom bought you from the pharmacy rack in 1985 and although some of my favorite children’s books came from that same rack, this book has unremarkable characters, sloppy illustrations, and was even offensive in one moment.
On page 20 the unspecified female character is not included in the school yard games. On the next page she says “Not like home,” comparing the exclusion to her life back “home” (again, unspecified OTHER place), but the illustration is what bothers me: Children playing with a pinata. On pg. 20 they are in a school yard, on pg 21 she is playing at a party with a pinata. If this unspecified girl was at a party in America with her family, she WOULD play with a pinata, but the pinata in this specific comparison seems to be working as some kind of cultural indicator which is pinpointed through an overused and lazy stereotype. The pinata, although a staple in Mexican-American and Mexican parties alike, is not some kind of cultural marker as exclusively “Mexican.” It isn’t necessary to toss tacos, sombreros, or pinatas into a book just to pinpoint the “other” culture. If it is contextually relevant, sure, but in this case it is not. “Not like home” should have been a caption for an image which depicted the girl playing in her school yard back home.
In the end, I like to encourage books which use English and Spanish; books which present children of color and their struggles; books which encourage new representations of cultures with a deep awareness of that culture; I want you to buy books that are not just doing these things on a shallow, let’s-just-get-a-brown-kid-on-a-page, kind of book, but books whose goals are deeper and more rooted than that.
Recommendation: Not Recommended; Ages: 3-7
Reviewer: Rachelle Escamilla
California poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera shares the story of his migrant farmworker childhood through powerful language and colorful illustrations (by Elly Simmons) in Calling the Doves.
Not once is Juan negative about his humble beginnings; he fills these pages with love and poetry. Born on the road to migrant worker parents in central California, Juan grew up in a one-room house his father built on top of an abandoned car he describes as “a short loaf of bread on wheels.” His father makes bird calls that attract doves and his mother recites poetry at dinner, all of this inspiring him: “I would let my voice fly the way my mother recited poems, the way my father called the doves.”
While the language is always evocative, one particular metaphor may confuse readers. All other metaphors work beautifully, for instance, he describes a green canvas as “a giant tortilla dipped in green tomato sauce,” and ”the wolves were the mountain singers.” However, when describing his family eating outdoors, “the sky was my blue spoon, the wavy clay of the land was my plate” may be taken literally by children (and some adults) who might have trouble making sense of these lines.
Besides that instance, this lyrical story accompanied by striking illustrations tell a story rarely seen in children’s literature, from immigration to migration according to the seasons of melon, lettuce, and grapes, to traditional healing arts. A wonderful celebration of migrant and Mexican-American culture, this book is a great way to teach your child poetry as well as diversity.
Recommendation : Highly Recommended. 6+
Reviewer: Yu-Han Chao
Duyvis’ Otherbound is a tour-de-force in complications. The story is told through dual narrators, Nolan and Amara. Nolan, a bilingual Hispanic teenager growing up in small town Arizona, has a crippling neurological disorder, masked as epilepsy. This disorder has already cost him one foot and incurred massive medical debt for his working class family. In the past, Nolan’s disorder even caused hallucinations whenever he blinked. He is constantly aware of the burden he unintentionally places on his family and struggles to connect with those around him, his disabilities impairing him both physically and mentally. Nolan is also doing his best to hide a secret: the hallucinations never stopped. Every time Nolan closes his eyes his mind is transported into the body of our second protagonist, Amara.
Perfect Lil Blends: A Reality Book that Celebrates the Diversity of Multicultural Children is like a series of love letters from parents to their children accompanied by their children’s portraits. Compiled by Luke Whitehead, the founder of Mixed Nation, this is a photo essay of children of mixed heritage from almost every racial, cultural, and ethnic background. Yes, most of these children are exceptionally beautiful however, similar to, but more personal than, Kip Fulbeck’s photo essay book Mixed, each photo of a child is accompanied by a description of the child’s life interests and a note of dedication from the parents to the child, making this more than a vanity book of portraits. (more…)
Monica Brown once again delivers a captivating protagonist in the character of Marisol McDonald whose bilinguality, red-headed, brown-skinned physical traits, and mixed Peruvian-Scottish-U.S.American ethnic heritage are significant influences on her daily life. Marisol McDonald became one of my favorite children’s literature characters in the first book in this series, Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match. This time around, Marisol is days away from her eighth birthday. While she doesn’t want to choose clothes or a party theme that match, she does want to see her abuelita (grandmother) for her birthday. However, Marisol must deal with the disappointing reality that, despite the fact that she has been doing chores and saving money for two years to pay for her abuelita to visit, a visa for her grandmother to visit the U.S. takes too much time for abuelita to arrive before Marisol’s birthday. With the strategic use of hand made, individualized party invitations to her diverse, multicultural group of friends, Marisol is able to get her mismatched costume birthday party and her abuelita finds a special, and realistic way to make an appearance. The story is told in a rich, first person point of view, which includes a sprinkling of Spanish in the English version and a sprinkling of English in the Spanish version so the reader always feels as if they are living in Marisol’s authentic bilingual world. Palacios’ painted illustrations add to the overall cheer of enjoying this book. And the dual language, English/Spanish telling of the story allow the reader to read the story in both languages in one sitting or read it in English one day and Spanish the next day.
My four-year-old who is rather good at decoding and following a good story didn’t follow all the detailed nuances that go along with Marisol choosing not to match and wasn’t as excited about this story as I was so I put target audience at just slightly older and a better fit for the child who can already read. The quality of the story should make it a favorite for children beyond the age of ten even though they will have already moved on to higher reading levels. For the 5-8 year old reader, new vocabulary is emphasized that will make them excitedly run to the dictionary so they can understand every single word and emotion of this spunky, energetic protagonist. I want to see so much more of Marisol McDonald. Once again, think Madeleine, think Eloise, think Olivia the Pig, think Orphan Annie all updated and in a Peruvian-Scottish U.S.American girl. l I love this character; you and your kids will as well. (buy
Recommendations: Highly Recommended Ages 5-8+
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda
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.
From the Bellybutton of the Moon/ Del Ombligo de la Luna And Other Summer Poems/ y otros poemas de verano by Francisco X. Alarcon
This is a book of free verse poems about the poet’s childhood experiences in nature, travel, and with his family during his visits to his grandparents’ home in Mexico. The poems are filled with simple vignettes of imagery. They are printed first in Spanish then in the English translation. All poems are accompanied by vivid oil painting illustrations. This is a great book to introduce middle school and older elementary children to free verse poetry while imparting the wonder of being a part of the life of grandparents in a different rural country every summer. All children who spend extended vacations with family members during the summer will relate with these poems of familial love and journey and those who visit Mexico will enjoy this celebration of the rural Mexican landscape, lifestyle and Mexican culture.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages: 8+
Book Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda
Oh, the piñatas talk and I love this book but more importantly, my daughter loves this book. She asked me to read it to her five times the first night and three times the next. It sits atop her dresser like a favorite family photo—her comfort and entertainment. This is the magical Pinnochioesque story of Pancho the Piñata. Pancho is a creation of Jorge the piñata maker who uses a magical, secret, paper mache mix to bring to life piñatas that speak.
Other than the fact that there is only a partial commitment to rhyme in the story, this is a narrative that transports you into a mystical reality and keeps you there. These piñatas enjoy being at the center of a party. Making the children who break them happy is their life mission. With a plentiful smattering of Spanish words of endearment, Pinata tells the story of Pancho maturing from a scared new piñata into a piñata who finds his self-worth in making Lulu, Jorge’s granddaughter happy on her birthday.
Lulu is confined to a wheel chair but that is never mentioned. So, in just a few pages and with the answering of my daughter’s one question about her, “Why does she have that chair?” the story transported differently abled people from unseen in my daughter’s life to normal. Pancho lives on after his candy is spilled and the extra special fantasy of Pinata continues through the other characters, especially the little candy addicted mice that keep the wonder of this world going. Pinata is an exciting, bilingual, magical experience. At the end of the book, you and your child will learn how to make your own, real life, magical pinata. So, turn a page and swing a bat!
Recommendation: Highly Recommended
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda
A very simple story told by a little girl who seeks comfort in her mother’s smell, embrace, and love. The first person narrative partially frames the oil painting illustrations with the English text at the top and the Spanish text at the bottom of the page. The protagonist enters the story through a discussion of her family’s different hair types. With uncommon descriptions of their hair as analogous to brooms, rosettes, and fur, she tells us of the diverse look and behavior (slippery, lazy, etc.) of her family members’ hair. Diversity is also found in the family through the illustration of each of them as a different color so that they are literally a rainbow family. The front and back covers of the book have educational lessons and crafts exercises for readers making this a hands on bilingual story of family love.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended; ages 5+
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda