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Heartbreaking, historically informative, and beautifully illustrated, Always An Olivia:A Remarkable Family History is the true family history of scholar and author, Olivia Herron (Nappy Hair) whose family has preserved their Jewish traditions even seven generations removed from the family’s Jewish matriarch. While the story is being told to a granddaughter in 2007 by her great-grandmother, the narrative actually tells the story of their ancestor Sarah who, hundreds of years ago, was the Italian Jewish granddaughter of victims of Jewish pogroms in Spain and Portugal. She is captured by pirates to be ransomed off but saved by another captive with whom she falls in love and sails to the USA to avoid recapture, death or the burning of the homes and businesses of the Jews to whom she was supposed to be ransomed. Still afraid of anti-Jewish violence, Sarah adopts the middle name Olivia instead of using her given middle name, Shulamit.
In the U.S., customs settles Sarah and her husband on the Georgia Islands in the free, black African Geechee community. Sarah and her husband have children and their children marry Geechees. Their descendants continue to practice the Jewish rituals that Sarah remembered (because, the text lets us know, she forgot many) including lighting the Shabbat candles on Friday nights. The women are the keepers of the tradition from being in charge of lighting the Shabbat candles to the legacy of naming a daughter of each generation Olivia or, as Sarah requested, a name that means “peace”. They choose to preserve the original name by naming a girl in each generation “Olivia” after Sarah.
From the opening line in which the girl child Carol Olivia asks her great-grandmother about black U.S.American slavery and is told that her family experienced enslavement in Egypt, witnessed U.S.American chattel slavery, but was not descended from enslaved black U.S.Americans, this biography is an eye opening account of the different histories of blacks and mixed racial heritage people in the U.S. since the 16th century.
Despite the book’s engagement of the heavy subject matter of slavery, racial and religious persecution, kidnapping, family separation, and near identity loss, there is a hopeful tone in the reading, achieved through James Tugeau’s use of light in his dramatic pastel illustrations, the tone of the narrative, and narrative breaks in the relaying of violence to fully describe life in peaceful times. Thus, this story of a resilient family communicates the necessity of remembering family history. Always an Olivia makes it clear that despite their family history of terror, renewal, survival and reinvention, the family of Olivias is proud of, and takes comfort in, their family traditions and heritage.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 8-Adult (buy)
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda
Lulu’s Busy Day is the sequel to Hello, Lulu and this time around we learn about the daily activities of our main character (while her heritage is again sidestepped). Drawing, visiting the park with a friend, and building castles is all in a day’s work for Lulu. While the first Lulu book visually suggests that she’s biracial by introducing us to her parents, this book also prefers to visually cue us in on her differences: her brown, puffy hair, dark eyes, and tan complexion. So while she looks a little different compared to many popular storybook characters, she still does all the same things as everyone else. Thus, this would be a good book to share with your child to introduce them to a diverse character—just make sure you point it out to your young reader.
Recommendation: Recommended to introduce young readers to diverse-looking characters; Ages 2-5
Reviewer: Kaitlyn Wells
Hello, Lulu is a great book for beginner readers, but not necessarily the ideal book if you’re teaching your little one about diversity. The book introduces the reader to a little girl named Lulu and the important people and things in her life. The reader learns about Lulu and all of the members of her family. The board book itself features brightly colored backgrounds to help Lulu’s family members stand out. So while the illustrations visually cue us in on the family’s interracial composition, it’s never verbally explained. Thus, to bypass this subliminal message, you may want to point out the fact that Lulu’s parents are different races from the beginning. One other note: From learning about what Lulu’s favorite snacks are to how many pets Lulu has, your child is sure to notice a correlation or two in their own life (racial composition aside).
Recommendation: Recommended to introduce young readers to diverse-looking characters; Ages 2-5 (buy)
Book Reviewers: Kaitlyn Wells
A well intentioned father tries to help his brown-skinned biracial daughter feel comfortable with her skin color by plaiting his straight hair, donning black face and having her don white face. I was almost too insulted to continue reading but out of duty, I finished the book. The narrative attempts to redeem itself by showing people laying out on the beach tanning, using rollers to make their hair curly, and pointing out that every one wants features they can’t have. I don’t know if this did well in Belgium where it was originally published but as a U.S.American, I would never read this to my child.
Recommendation: Not Recommended.
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda
From authors, Sebastian A. Jones and Garcelle Beauvais, we have the second book in the “I am” series of children’s books featuring fraternal twins, Jay and Nia. We met Jay and Nia in their first book, I am Mixed and now in I am Living in 2 Homes, the happy family that we met originally has experienced a split. Mom lives in the country near a river and dad lives in the city near sky scrapers. The children have fun playing in nature doing things like fishing and running after butterflies with mom and doing city things like baseball in the street and eating hot dogs off of food carts, with dad. This book captures the full spectrum of emotions that children feel in the face of their parents splitting up all the while showing us children who are celebrating life; who are joyful in the time they spend with each parent. The difficult feelings that they have to deal with like guilt and fear of their parents forgetting them if they remarry are illustrated first on the faces and in the gestures of the trio of frogs and toads that magically befriend and serve as entourage to Jay and Nia throughout the book. The trio of frogs adds humor throughout the story, which deals with the complexities of this heavy topic through a poetic narrative and many illustrations of parents hugging and reassuring their children.
James C. Webster’s illustrations are evocative and poignant. Adults will feel every emotion I’ve described and more as they read to their children. At the end of the book there’s a note from Jay and Nia about appreciating all family. Children have an opportunity to fill out a discussion form that allows them to identify good things about themselves and good things about living in two homes. There is also a parent discussion guide on using the book to discuss your family. Overall, this is a good book for children to have in the face of divorce or separation and is a great companion for parents who have to discuss the split family with their children and may have difficulty steering the conversation.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended. Age 3-8
Review by Omilaju Miranda