Diverse Kids Books–Reviews

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In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco

In our mothers house coverThis is one of the best first person narrative children’s books I’ve ever read. The voice is so authentic I thought it was a children’s nonfiction story until I read the back bookflap. An African descendant woman tells the story of her life with her two mothers, Asian brother and carrot-top sister from their at-birth adoptions until their parents pass away, leaving the family home to the protagonist’s brother. Polacco’s narrative style is one of such candor and fluidity that as the protagonist shares with us the milestones of her life from becoming a big sister to seeing her mothers in dresses for the first time to finding emotional comfort in the home after her parents pass away , the reader is increasingly emotionally invested in their ever expanding world of friends, family and tradition. Polacco also includes the conflict of an anti-gay neighbor in the book, who turns the dial up on that confrontational anti-gay anger pretty high without actually saying “lesbian, gay, or homosexual.” The mothers handle the confrontation in a protective and reassuring manner that gives parents reading this book with children the freedom to explain as little or as much about sexual orientation as parents wish, including saying nothing about sexual orientation and just explaining that sometimes people don’t like others who are different. Illustrated with engaging animation and expressiveness, readers will see and feel a full spate of emotions as we do in real life. While the mothers demonstrate friendly touch affection towards each other and familial touch affection toward the children, for some, it will be important to see that the three children enter heterosexual marriages, framed in family portraits near the end of the book. The choice to show the oldest daughter and the son married to people within their “own” racial groups, demonstrates to me a silent acknowledgement of efforts made by the Italian and English-Irish mothers to encourage, support and preserve their children’s unique cultural identities. Complete with three children who grow up to become successful professionals with happy families of their own, In Our Mothers’ House is the multi-dimensional All American LGBT-parent family story.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; ages 6+

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

Molly’s Family by Nancy Garden

cover for Molly's FamilyKids don’t bite their tongue and with the blunt challenge of a six-year-old, Nancy Garden starts this story in which the protagonist, Molly responds verbally and emotionally to her classmate telling her that she can’t have the two mothers that she has drawn as part of her family make up. Molly’s mothers are her birth mother and adoptive mother (which is an important distinction in this category of books that have a strong representation of families made through adoption instead of one of the partners giving birth) but Molly doesn’t know those facts until later in the story when her mothers explain that to her . The teacher and a couple of Molly’s classmates are sympathetic to her hurt feelings and discomfort. Following the incident in the classroom, the teacher and then both of Molly’s mothers explain to her that the family you have is the family that is both possible and real. But the issue is not solved for Molly with these affirmations; she is still unsure of the validity of her two mother family, she is aware of her difference and has lost her confidence which is demonstrated by her leaving the drawing of her family at home on the 2nd day of the story. In a believable parallel with the process children whose home culture is significantly different from the societal norm go through to move from shame and insecurity to validation and acceptance of their families, it is only when the teacher tells Molly again that a child can have two mothers that Molly finally opens up to observing the ways that others are different and her family is real. Realistic illustrations and believable dialogue strengthen this story that gives a child of gay parents an understanding of their validity and other children an understanding of how families differ and live in harmony.

Recommendation:  Highly Recommended; ages 5+

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman

cover Heather Has Two MommieA book review page that gives pointed attention to lesbian and gay parent led families can only be complete with a review of this classic book which was the first book ever published in the United States featuring a daughter of two mothers. Out of print now, you will either find this book at your library or buy it through a used bookseller (used copies start at $13; new copies start at $29 plus shipping). The story is a straightforward narrative introducing the reader to Heather and her family, which includes her, her two mommies, a cat and a dog. When she goes to daycare, Heather learns that not having a dad is weird, which saddens her to the point of tears. The teacher and other children are sympathetic and discuss how their families have different relationships with father figures as well, from not having a father, to having two daddies, or grandparents as primary caregivers. The black and white pencil drawings add poignancy and depth to the story. Children and adults will also be drawn into the attention given to children’s participation and representation of their world as the children’s drawings of their families are shown to the reader. The text and illustrations evocatively portray the universal vulnerability of children in the face of feeling like an outsider, their dependency on parental love and the neighborly generosity they express when coming from loving homes.

Recommendation: Recommended; ages 3-8

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

A Tale of Two Mommies by Vanita Oelschlager

cover  A Tale of Two MommiesAll dialogue, this rhyming book is a conversation between the adopted son of two others and his friends while the protagonist and his friends play on the beach. As they run, play ball, swim, and have other beach fun, the questions and answers volley in sets of two. “Which mom is there when you want to go fishing? Which mom helps out when Kitty goes missing?” “Mommy helps when I want to go fishing, Both mommies help when Kitty goes missing.” The narrative continues in such a trajectory until it includes answers in which the protagonist says he is the one doing certain things. This is a full portrait of the emotional and activity life of a family from the perspective of a child who is increasingly taking on responsibilities. The child happens to be the African-Descendant child of two white moms but that is not discussed. This is a story with which every child who has taken note of how their parents nurture and mentor them, can identify.

Recommendation: Recommended; ages  Ages 2-8

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

Best, Best Colors/ Los Mejores Colores by Eric Hoffman

Best Best Colors by Eric HoffmanI like everything about this book. The watercolor illustrations are dreamy and perfect for a book focused on a boy’s struggle with loving all the colors of the rainbow. Written simultaneously in Spanish and English, this is the story of the protagonist Nate having trouble deciding which color is his best color so he keeps on changing his mind based on liking a new object. Whatever color the sneakers or cape or paints are is his favorite color. He wants to integrate whatever color is his favorite into his world and he chooses his “best mom” or best friend according to whether or not they say “yes”, he can have the color in his life the way that he wants. When they say “no”, as mothers must, he takes away best mother status—which is such a candid representation of the mercurial nature of children. Without making reference to it, we see Nate with his moms and his sister who are all different races/ ethnicities (Nate and one of his moms are African Diaspora people while his other mom is Caucasian and his sister is East Asian) enjoying life on Nate’s journey of figuring out what and who he likes best. In the end, his nightmare of colors fighting opens his mind to choosing an object in which all the colors get along: the Pride Flag. This is one of the few books representing LGBT parents with an African Diaspora mother or child so it is refreshing that is has a well-written story line independent of its representation of diversity.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended

Book Review by Omilaju Miranda

Mommy, Mama, and Me by Leslea Newman

Mommy mama and meParenthood through a child’s eyes can’t get any simpler than the way it is presented in this book by Leslea Newman. Mommies are the people who care for you and make sure you have fun.  If you have a child under the age of five who you want to see that having two mommies is just regular life, this book should be a part of your home library. It is a  board book so if your child younger than three-years-old gets attached in a way that they play roughly with the books, the texts are durable.  One mother is white, the other appears to be of multiracial African descent;  The child also looks to be multiracial. The book simply carries the reader through a fun day in life; there is no discussion of adoption or biology. When I read Mommy, Mama, and Me with my daughter at age two, she was very interested in clarifying the gender of the child. My daughter asked me several times “Is she a boy or is he a girl?” and she kept trying to figure out which mother was “mommy”.  By opening these questions in my daughter’s mind, the book gave, and continues to give us a doorway to discuss having two moms. When this book is read with it’s companion book, Daddy, Papa and Me, my daughter’s questions about the child’s gender elucidate the one problem I have with Mommy, Mama, and Me and the books as a pair—the child in Mommy, Mama, and Me is androgynous and the child in Daddy, Papa, and Me is a boy  but what of girls who have two parents of the same gender? I still think these are “must have” books, which are easily accessible and enjoyable for kids of all ages.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Age 0-5

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda