Diverse Kids Books–Reviews

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The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster

Cover The Hello, Goodbye WindowThis is my new favorite book. Centered around the magical front window of her grandparents’ home, this is the story of a pre-school child’s normal visit to her grandparent’s house. Norton Juster uses this first person narrative to give us such a dynamic representation of the protagonist’s emotional and practical experience visiting her grandparents. The interaction between the grandparents—Nanna and Poppy—is fun and disciplined, subtly touching on some of the safety and restriction issues that pre-schoolers are learning at this age. Her impressive imagination is on display when she speaks of ANYBODY being able to go by the Hello, Goodbye window including Tyrannosaurus Rex (he’s extinct so doesn’t come often, you know.) The grandparents are an interracial couple as are the protagonist’s parents who come pick her up at the end of the story. These are happy, culturally diverse people—Nanna (who is of African-Descent) is from England so the Queen comes by for tea; Poppy plays the Harmonica and the protagonist hopes the Poppy she marries can play the harmonica, too—who love the protagonist in a comprehensive expression of that love. I literally had a warm feeling in my chest as I was reading this book and constantly smiled at the protagonist’s happy movement through her day. With three generations of family represented through a child’s eyes, you and your kid are going to love this book.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 3+

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

Hope by Isabell Monk

Hope by Isabell MonkHope is on her summer visit to spend time with her aunt Poogee. They are having a great time until they run in to an old friend of her aunt’s who has been away for awhile. The woman asks “Is the child mixed?” as if Hope is a weird object instead of a person, which makes Hope feel sad. Aunt Poogee uplifts Hopes spirits by telling her about her ancestry on both sides of her family and that her parents came together in love. This is a straightforward narrative that addresses implied prejudice and recognizes a child’s emotional response to disapproval is felt even when not verbally expressed. Rich illustrations accentuate the emotional impact of the story.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 6+
Book Review by Omilaju Miranda

Molly Bannaky by Alice McGill

Cover of Molly BannakyWith an awe-inspiring light touch that manages to impart the oppressive colonial history of indentured servants and African slaves without sugar coating or overwhelming the young reader with the harsh realities of this period of history, Alice McGill writes the love and family story of former indentured servant, Molly Walsh and her formerly enslaved husband Bannaky—the grandparents of Benjamin Banneker. Chris Soentpiet’s water color paintings provide an evocative illustration for a story whose complexity holds the reader’s emotional commitment from the first to last page. You feel the griot that is author Alice McGill as you read Molly Bannaky. Every classroom should have a copy of this mini-biography of one of history’s women of strength and every household with or without children should have a copy of this book on its shelves. Not a bedtime story but a story to be read and discussed.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 6-10

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

 

Mira in the Present Tense (originally published in the U.K as Artichoke Hearts) by Sita Bhramachari

cover for Mira in the Present TenseMira in the Present Tense is definitely a three-hankie book. This storyline tows the reader on an emotional roller coaster, gently rocking us back and forth through sadness to acceptance, up to excitement and down to understanding, and over and under through past and present. I found myself tired, but at ease, with the characters slowly strolling through my mind.
We meet Mira, the Indian-Jewish protagonist, days before her 12th birthday and just before she joins a writing class and begins her May Day journal. Mira in the Present Tense is organized by dates instead of chapters, just as a journal would be. For the next month, we jump into Mira’s life as she reaches the highs and lows of the normal coming of age milestones- starting her period, her first crush and first heterosexual kiss, finding her own voice, and standing up to her bullies. At the same time, we join Mira as she and her family live with the impending death of her dad’s mum, Nana Josie. With Nana Josie gracefully leading the way, Mira learns that some heartbreaks are necessary if you truly love the person.
The strength of this book is in its characters, with Nana Josie stealing the spotlight. In her own words, “It is bloody hard work dying well,” but Nana Josie indeed does die well cover for Artichoke Hearts by Sita Bhramachariwith grace and kindness for all who will miss her. The author, Sita Brahmachari, places layer upon layer until each individual is shaped in our minds. Mira at school is almost painfully shy and introspective, relying only on her best girlfriend and later on a boy in her writing class. But with Nana Josie, Mira is uninhibited. Nana Josie lends Mira her creative strength and her unbound love. Pat Print is another character of note. She appears to Mira in the most honest ways at the most unexpected time, almost as if she is Mira’s guardian angel.
Mira is of Jewish and Indian descent, but beyond her name there is not much mention or focus on this fact in the story. I found this quite normalizing as our children of mixed heritage will no doubt identify with Mira for her racial make-up but everyone can identify with Mira for the struggle she is facing in the death of her grandmother. There are two other characters I would like to point out to potential readers. Mira’s crush, Jide, was a Rwandan refugee adopted by refugee camp workers. There are some small details about the atrocities in Rwanda and if children are unaware it might bring up questions. Jide talks about the physical differences between himself and his adopted parents. He also mentions how frustrating and mad it can make him when strangers make intrusive and uneducated comments. Mira’s Aunt Abi has a female partner, who we are introduced to early on. She does not play a main role and honestly, her brief introduction is quite off putting. When Mira writes, “Nana points to Abi, Aunty Mel—who is actually Abi’s girlfriend, but we call her aunty anyway,” I got the feeling that Abi having a female partner was accepted but not advertised or completely ok.

I recommended this book for ages 10-13.
Reviewer:  Amanda Setty

Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan

cover for Becoming Naomi LeonNaomi Soledad Leon Outlaw is a ten year old girl who lives with her great-grandmother and disabled brother in Avocado Acres Trailer Rancho in Lemon Tree, California. She hasn’t seen her mother in seven years, and her father is in Mexico. Naomi is an avid reader, list maker and soap carver who is devoted to her family and loves works. Her world transforms one afternoon when her glamorous looking mother, who has changed her name from Terri Lynn to Skyla, shows up unannounced with armfuls of gifts. Although Naomi is thrilled to meet her mother, she feels overwhelmed. When it emerges that Skyla is an alcoholic who has been in and out of rehab and that she not interested in Owen, Naomi’s brother, because has a disability, Naomi becomes quickly disillusioned.
The novel follows Naomi’s coming of age story and her development into a young woman. Her unconventional family is made up of her great-grandmother and brother, but also includes her neighbors from Mexico, and her estranged father. In an effort to reconnect with the children’s father – and to thwart Skyla’s attempts to take Naomi from her home – their great-grandmother takes them on an impromptu road trip to Mexico in their airstream trailer, named Baby Beluga. They arrive in the country right before La Noche de los Rabanos, The Night Of The Radishes, a Mexican festival where carvers create elaborate artwork out of radishes. The Leons, they find out, are renowned as carvers, and Naomi experiences a deep cultural immersion in discovering her Mexican roots, wearing a traditional Mexican Village woman’s blouse and huraches, and carving radishes with her friends.
‘Becoming Naomi Leon’ is a poetic, poignant novel with excellent character development and gentle treatment of difficult subject matter. It’s a classic coming of age story that incorporates the positive aspects of cultural mixing, and handles this complex family structure with grace and insight. The discovery of the long lost Mexican father is the highlight of the narrative.

Recommendation: Any advanced reader will enjoy this book, which could also be a good book to read to a child who is ready for chapter books to read aloud.


Book Reviewer: Jill Moffett

Grandfather Counts by Andrea Cheng

cover for Grandfather CountsAs simple as the language needs to be for a child to easily connect with the narrative, this story is dynamic in its attention to a child facing major changes in her home life when her grandfather arrives from China. Not only does Helen, our protagonist, have to give her up her bedroom and her view of the cargo train that runs outside of her room but, her mother becomes a perfectionist, and her grandfather’s is nearly mute in the household because he doesn’t speak English. But Helen, a little lost in her relationship with her grandfather, is persistent in observing him and trying to connect with him. Ultimately, she makes the connection by mistake in a sentimental manner that I felt was “sweet”. Like her, her grandfather likes watching the trains; together they count the cars and teach each other English and Chinese. Towards the end of the story, the family commits to privately learning Chinese through a computer program her Euro-American father has purchased; one gets the feeling that Helen and her grandfather are going to feel “at home” again. I was gratified to see this book give attention to the American Chinese children who don’t know Chinese and didn’t “fit in” at Chinese language school because the dominant narrative of Asian life still seems to be the immigrant story and first generation story of children who are fluent in the Chinese language. Helen and her siblings are first generation American children of mixed Euro and Chinese heritage who, despite her parents attempts to integrate Chinese culture into their lives, are not immersed in Chinese culture. Any child of immigrant parents whose lives make them consider themselves American descendents of their parents’ culture instead of members of the non-United States culture, will identify with Helen and see something of themselves in Helen’s story. All others will enjoy observing Helen’s lived identity and the multigenerational bonding experience in this simply told, complex story.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; ages 4-8

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

A Wild Cowboy by Dana Kessimalis Smith

 

cover 1 a wild cowboyFrom the opening line of this book, “I am a boy, a wild cowboy,” the reader enters the imaginary world of a city boy who sees his entire world as the ranch that he runs. His parents (Asian Mom/ black dad) take him and his brother to his grandmother’s house. His brother is the protagonist’s “pardner”, his grandmother’s brownstone and it’s small backyard become the ranch; the pets and stuffed animals become the cattle that the grandmother and grandsons must “drive.” They are the “frontier’s best” smack dab in the middle of the city; his mom is a horse, his grandma’s puppies are coyotes and the reader is along for a fun adventure of the mind. You and your child will love the world created in the protagonists mind, the exciting pace of which is set with rhythmical rhyme. I smiled all the way through.

 

 Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Age 2+
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

 

Happy Birthday, Lulu! by Caroline Uff

cover happy birthday , LuluA perfect first picture book, this is about little girl’s birthday morning ritual and enjoyment of her birthday party. The color pencil drawings make all the characters look like dolls—a comforting approach to illustration for the small child. Lulu—the protagonist—happens to be a child of mixed heritage (white mom/black dad); she has an older sister and a very diverse set of friends. This is a great book to engage your child in the discussion of birthday parties. Uff has several more in the Lulu series.

 

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda for Ages 0-4

That’s My Mum by Henriette Barkow

Inside page--Kai with his mom and Amelia with her mom

Inside page–Kai with his mom and Amelia with her mom

That’s My Mum is a book that will have obvious significance for many in the Mixed-Heritage communities. One of the things I like about this book is that while the protagonist and first person narrator is Amelia who is brown with a white mother, her best friend whose family gets just as much space on the page is Kai, a biracial white boy whose mom is brown-skinned.Book Cover for That's My Mum by Henriette Barkow and Derek Brazelle

This is only the second picture book I’ve come across that gives attention to the fair-skinned, straight-haired children of brown mothers and the only  picture book with a full story arc that does so. The author smartly pairs Amelia and Kai to show that their emotional responses to the mother mix-up are the same. Together, Kai and Amelia face the emotionally and pragmatically challenging issue of people questioning their relationships with their mothers. Though these two friends find the mother mix-up frustrating and saddening, the language of the book remains

light while giving realistic attention to the children’s feelings and communications with people outside of their family. In a humorous twist to their story, the two friends collaborate to create a solution to their shared issue. Many of their ideas are silly, one of which they reject out of self-love and appreciation for what they look like. Ultimately, they decide to make buttons with photos of their mothers– a solution that if noticed by others would completely clarify their relationship with their parents and will put a smile on the adult reader’s face as it represents the innocence and innovation of children’s minds. Child readers may still be confused.

The author’s effort in the middle of the book to demonstrate through the narrative language, the confusion other people face when interacting with them, actually results in confusing the reader as the illustration and the wording are not entirely clear. Due to this, I’d place reading age at no younger than 6-years-old.
Published by the London based Educational Company Mantra Lingua, the book ships from England and is published in dual languages. My copy is in English with Urdu translation, pictured is an English-French copy but the book cover states that it is available in English with 22 other languages. The one drawback to this book for those outside of England –the four weeks it takes to receive the book when ordering through Amazon.com. Enjoy.

 

Recommendation: Highly Recommended especially for families with brown or yellow parents of white appearing children since this is only the second picture book that I’ve found which acknowledges these parents and children.

Book Review by Omilaju Miranda.

Dream Dancer by Jill Newsome and Claudio Munoz

cover for dream dancerA ten-year-old dance prodigy who happens to be of mixed heritage (Latina and white) breaks her foot and goes through the emotional and physical process of recovery until she can dance again. I say “happens to be” because her ethnic heritage is never discussed in the book; we just see her parents and grandmother are of different races. Easy language and an enchanting storyline tell of Lily’s transference of her emotional attachment to dancing to dancing doll. Breezy, evocative writing and illustrationcarries the reader through Lily and her doll’s experience in this story that portrays a child literally falling and getting back up again on a grand scale and rebuilding her dreams.

 

 Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 3+
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda