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When 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.
Elan, Son of Two Peoples by Heidi Smith Hyde and illustrated by Mikela Prevost is an artistically captivating and rustic story about thirteen-year-old Elan’s journey to becoming a man across the cultures of Judaism and the Acoma Pueblo. Set in 1898, Elan and his parents travel from their home in San Francisco to Albuquerque, New Mexico where his mother’s family lives. Elan’s father is a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe, and his mother is the granddaughter of a Pueblo Indian chief. The story takes place just days after Elan’s thirteenth birthday, a very important coming-of-age marker in both cultures. The reader does get a glimpse of his Bat Mitzvah and his Jewish culture, but a majority of the story focuses on Elan’s trip to New Mexico and the ceremony that honors him as a Pueblo tribesman. (more…)
It is Hanukkah season and the Jewish Community Center is hosting a dreidel workshop and Hanukkah celebration to mark the occasion. All the children have grand ideas for making their dreidels unique including Miriam’s “green” dreidel made from recycled materials, Jacob’s singing one made from an old music box, David’s bouncing dreidel made from a rubber ball, and Jeremy’s Braille dreidel. Jeremy’s choice of material, clay, initially does not seem as interesting as that of the other children. However, as he begins to model his clay dreidel with mysterious dots, the other children in the workshop soon recognize its uniqueness and, in the process, they learn a lesson about Braille, blindness, and what it means to have a parent who is blind. (more…)
Rebecca’s Journey Home tells the story of the author, Brynn Olenberg Sugarman, bringing home her daughter Rachele (“Rebecca” in the story) from Vietnam. Instead of the “Sugarmans”, the family in the story is the “Steins”. While the title centers on “Rebecca”—the Vietnamese adoptee, the story speaks more of the family’s adoption journey. Therefore, young siblings anticipating the addition of an adopted child into their home (or young siblings recently experiencing such an event) can especially identify with this story. (more…)
Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles is a story about Hanukkah but with a twist. It traces the celebratory rituals that Jacob and his family enjoy for the eight days of Hanukkah as well as shows Jacob’s frustration and embarrassment with his autistic big brother Nathan who constantly repeats himself, hugs complete strangers, and obsessively announces long lists of random facts. A centerpiece of the Hanukkah tradition is lighting the menorah; and, for Jacob, it becomes central to his holiday anxiety: Every day of the Hanukkah celebration, much to Jacob’s chagrin, Nathan blows out the newly lit candle on the menorah. Their parents are patient with Nathan and his autism; and, they help guide Jacob and their new neighbors’ son to becoming a bit more understanding of his disorder as well. (more…)
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…)
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
When Jackie Robinson bought his first house in Brooklyn, NY, some people in the neighborhood sent around a petition trying to keep him and his family out because they were black. It failed and upon moving in, the first friend Jackie Robinson made was a young Jewish fan, Steven Satlow. Steve comes over and helps the Robinson family decorate their Christmas Tree. When Robinson learns that the Satlows don’t have a Christmas tree, he thinks it is because they can’t afford one and buys them a huge Christmas tree. The Robinsons end up learning about a new religion and culture and both the Satlows and Robinsons demonstrate communicating with grace and appreciation in the face of misunderstanding. Ultimately, out of appreciation for Jackies gift, the Satlows chose to have a Christmas tree and a Menorah for Hannukah that year and the Robinsons learned that Jews don’t celebrate Christmas. Written by Jackie Robinson’s daughter, Sharon who writes in the afterword that the Satlows and Robinsons are still friends.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended; ages 5+
Book Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda
Documentary Film –“Off and Running: An American Coming of Age Story” by Avery Klein-Cloud and Nicole Opper
Spanning two years in the life of high school track star, Avery Klein-Cloud, this is the documentary of her journey to reconnect with her birth mother. New Yorker Avery Klein-Cloud is the African American daughter of two white Jewish mothers and sister to two brothers –one Korean and the other African American and Puerto Rican. The documentary opens with Avery reaching out to her birth mother and in a heart wrenching, emotional journey of attempting to balance living a high performer’s daily life with hoping to fill in the voids of her identity, we watch Avery struggle with both of her families, school, and a new found Black awareness as part of her personal self-knowing. At the risk of spoiling, this film is a testimony to the power that love and raising a child with all possible social, familial, and educational advantages have to make sure that those who lose their way make it back home.
I highly recommend this film for everyone and definitely for transracial families and soon-to-be transracial adoptive parents.
Available on Netflix , Shop PBS, and Amazon.
–Transracial Adopted Child (African American/Jewish)
Recommendation: Highly Recommended
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda
This is the coolest story book, exceptional in that dialogue is plentiful—it is full of the realistic conversation that goes on between children and their peers as well as the adults in their lives. Nate has to decide what to be for the Purim Celebration at his synagogue but more importantly, he has to decide whether to be himself—a boy who wants to dress up as an alien— or a follower of the crowd. The crowd in this case is the group of boys in his Hebrew class who are dressing as superheroes. His fathers encourage him to be strong enough to be himself and he comes up with a surprise costume that makes him feel like he is true to himself and will be welcome with the boys in his class. I thought we would get through this entire story without discussing the way in which Nate’s family is different but ultimately as a part of the conversation encouraging Nate to be himself, he and his fathers make a reference to his fathers’ dedication to being their true self. However, conversation over his fathers being two dads instead of a mom and dad does not take up much space in this lovely story about an elementary child’s apprehension over being different from the group and the imaginative solution he finds to restore his confidence. A lovely story for every child who at some point will want to resist peer pressure to express him/herself.
Recommendation: Recommended; ages 4-7
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda