Diverse Kids Books–Reviews

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The Festival of Bones / El Festival de las Calaveras by Luis San Vicente #DayoftheDead #WeNeedDiverseBooks

cover The Festival of BonesThe Festival of Bones / El Festival de las Calaveras; The Little-Bitty Book For the Day of the Dead By Luis San Vicente

This book is just exciting and really great for all ages. The illustrations are fun and filled with light which is highlighted by darkness: which is actually the point of Dia De Los Muertes (or Day of the Dead). It’s a time to celebrate the lives of those you love. It’s a time to make food and construct an altar to celebrate the lives of the ones who are no longer in this reality.

The Festival of Bones captures that other-worldliness of the holiday. The skeletons or calaveras are rushing to make it to the festival. They are riding paper airplanes across the dusty clouds and being pulled on carriages by skeletal horses, popping out of caskets, but not in a scary way, which is fantastic!

The best part is this book is good for all ages. There is a section in the back with paragraphs of information including the historical relevance, how to make an altar and how to make sugar skulls. Get this book and bring it out in the Fall!

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First Rain by Charlotte Herman

cover for First RainFirst Rain by Charlotte Herman and illustrated by Kathryn Mitter is a wonderful tale of personal growth through family love. When Abby and her parents move to Israel they are sad to have to leave Abby’s Grandma behind. As Abby finds out that Israel is an exciting new place, she tells her Grandma all about her new experiences through letters and telephone calls. Abby’s relationship with her Grandma is poignant without being emotionally heavy. Their love carries the reader through the text and Mitter’s bright illustrations.   (more…)

Jasmine Skies by Sita Brahmachari

Alternate photo for Jasmine SkiesWhen I heard Sita Brahmachari had written a sequel to Artichokes Hearts (Mira in the Present Tense) I could not wait to get my hands and eyes on it. Like a memorable character does, Mira had gone on living in my mind and I was excited to see where her creator had taken her. But while Brahmachari’s second novel does continue to focus on Mira and includes character references from her previous book it did not feel like a sequel or a continuation from the first novel. So while it did not satisfy my curiosity, it does mean this book can stand on its own. A reader can begin with Jasmine Skies and not feel lost.

Jasmine Skies reintroduces the reader to Mira Levenson at the age of 14. After the passing of her grandfather, family ties were tenuously rekindled and Mira is on the way to Kolkata, India to meet her grandfather’s side of the family for the first time. In her bag she has letters taken without permission from her mother. Mira believes these letters hold the clues to discover the reason her grandfather never returned to India and why Mira’s mother and her same aged cousin, Anjali, stopped speaking. Despite the strained relationship, Mira is excited to be staying with Anjali and her daughter, Priya for three weeks. She is excited to meet members of her family for the first time and to get to know Kolkata, the place her grandfather told her stories about all her her life.

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Marisol McDonald and the Clash Bash/ Marisol McDonald y la fiesta sin igual by/por Monica Brown

cover for Marisol Mcdonald and the Clash BashMonica 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 Wakame Gatherers by Holly Thompson

cover for Wakame GatherersHolly Thompson tackles the difficult subject of war with grace and beautiful writing in The Wakame Gatherers. The book begins with a little girl saying, “My name is Nanami—Seven Seas—and I have two grandmothers from two different seas: Gram from Maine, and Baachan, who lives with us here in Japan.”

 Gram visits Japan, and several pages are dedicated to descriptions and illustrations of the beaches of Maine and Japan, with particular focus on the local color of Nanami’s Japanese hometown. As a translator between her two grandmothers, Nanami helps them compare and contrast their two lands, learns about hooking and preparing seaweed as she takes care to “[use] the right language with the right grandmother.”

 Then comes conflict: not in the present, but seeping through from history. The illustrations become dark and ominous as Baachan reminisces about the war. Nanami continues to translate, and understands, “when my grandmothers were my age they were enemies, their countries bombing each other’s people.” The two old women, through their shared granddaughter’s translation, apologize for their countries’ past actions, and in the space of two pages, a feeling of peace and happiness is restored as they return to wakame gathering.

 With exquisite illustrations and vivid descriptions, The Wakame Gatherers brings together two cultures by not just acknowledging similarities and differences, but addressing the past. Of additional educational value at the end of the book are a fact sheet about wakame, a glossary of Japanese phrases, and three wakame recipes.

 Recommended: Highly recommended. Ages 4-8.

More More More Said the Baby—Three Love Stories by Vera B. Williams

Cover for More More More said the BabyI didn’t really enjoy this book but I seem to be the only one. It was a Caldecott Honor Book in 1990 and my 3-year-old daughter got in to touching her own belly button during the part where “Little Guy’s” father is kissing his belly button. I may have found this book more engaging if I’d discovered it for my child when she was an infant or early toddler. This is one of Vera B. Williams’ books that exists for the illustrations and not the written narrative. There are three short stories in this book—stories that illustrate three different children receiving affection from their caretakers. The copyright page explains that the book is based on the gouache paintings and as I read it, the narrative was so thin, in my opinion, that I felt the words were just put on the page to justify putting a multicultural children’s book on the shelf but that was 23 years ago and one of the first, if not only Caldecott honor books with interracial families.

So what exists that is multiculturally relevant? There is a lone father caretaker of a child, there is a Caucasian grandmother caretaker of a child of multiracial African descent, and there is a brown-skinned mother of a light-skinned Asian child. The challenge with the Gouache paintings is a lack of defined detail. My daughter thought that “Little Guy” was a girl who didn’t like her father and, while we suspected that the grandmother was Caucasian, my grandmother upon reading it wasn’t sure—the way the features are drawn, she could just as easily have been a light-skinned woman of color. Similarly, I do not know whether the mother with daughter is supposed to be a brown-skinned Asian sharing her daughter’s ethnicity or a woman of a different ethnicity or race. In an interview I can’t find right now, Williams says that she wrote the book to fill the void of in the children’s books market with interracial families so having read that interview, I’m certain the grandmother is Caucasian. You may find the last painting uncomfortable as a child is splayed in a way that is a little exposing—my daughter asked if the girl had on shorts under her dress. What is clear is that readers can definitely see that families are composed of a rainbow of people. Since this is a book about relationships between familial adults and children, without couples or references to two parents, this is a book that can definitely reflect and validate single parent and alternative guardian families.

Recommendation: Valuable to have in your book collection; Ages 0-4

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda