Diverse Kids Books–Reviews

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I am Me by Karla Kushkin

I am Me cover by Karla Kushkin

Concisely written, Karla Kushkin’s I Am Me is a biracial little girl’s declaration of pride in both the physical characteristics that connect her to the people in her family as well as her self-pride in her individuality. She is a mixture of various characteristics of her father, her mother, and their respective families. Although the race or ethnicity of her father is not clear, he is a man of color, while her mother is Caucasian. With tawny skin and dark hair like her father and light green eyes like her mother, she is an apparent blend of two distinctly different ethnicities. Dyanna Wolcott’s illustrations emphasize the physical contrast between the two families (and the differences between the little girl and her parents) as they mingle together on an outing at the park filled with swimming, bike-riding, and a picnic. The text and illustrations are rendered in a manner that mimics a child’s innocent observations and the playfulness of the narrative and images makes this book visually and audibly attractive and relatable to a younger audience.

Recommendation: recommended ages 3+

Reviewer: LaTonya Jackson

Antonio’s Card/ La Tarjeta de Antonio by/por Rigoberto Gonzalez

Cover for Antonio's Card la Tarjeta de Antonio

With sophisticated literary conventions, Rigoberto Gonzalez tells this bilingual story of personal growth targeted to experienced young readers. Antonio is an elementary student of Mexican heritage, born in the United States, who loves to spell and read with his mom and his mom’s partner, Leslie. These facts are all revealed slowly as the narrative unfolds. The narrative’s primary concern is establishing the relationship of a son’s love for his stepmother and the emotional quandary a son experiences when he is embarrassed by the parent he loves because of the way his peers respond to her. The fact that he has two moms is not an issue in the book. The fact that his father is absent from his daily life is revealed as a part of a scene discussing him reading with Leslie about Guadalajara, Mexico, “where Antonio’s grandparents live. His father went to live there, too, many years ago, when Antonio was just a baby.” His world is presented as normative; in fact the illustrations are of a student population at his school, that is predominantly Latino including a Latina teacher, and all except one of the children who are not Latino, are children of color.

Parents and grandparents of the children in this book represent a full range of ages, ethnicities and religious backgrounds. The sentence, “Parents of all shapes and sizes come to greet their children” cues us in to notice the differences amongst these families. We see the racial and gender differences amongst the parents and the children they are greeting easily. On a double take we notice that Leslie, Antonio’s stepmother is taller than the other adults, which seems to be the biggest difference between her and the other adults that Antonio notices, while the other children jeer about her because she “looks like a guy,” and has paint all over her from her work in the art studio, which stimulates them to belittle her as looking “like a box of crayons exploded all over her.” In response, Antonio pulls Leslie away and, despite the fact that he enjoys his time with Leslie after school every day, he asks if he can walk home by himself in the future.

This book feels sad. This is because of the tone set by the illustrations, which convey a persistent sense of yearning and longing in the eyes of almost all the characters. No one ever smiles fully, except in the family drawing Antonio makes of him and his two moms for his mother’s day card. Even when a compromised smile appears on the face of a character, their eyes overshadow any reading of complete fulfillment or happiness with a sense of worry and reflection. Although this sentimentality within the illustrations is a powerful representation of the subtext of Antonio’s worry about ending up lonely if he separates from Leslie in response to his classmates’ teasing, that feeling of a void starts on the first page, despite the fact that the narrative is well paced and complex, without being overwhelming.

While the teasing of the children seems like a mere catalyst for Antonio’s rediscovering and affirming his bond with Leslie, the imagery of the story is as weighty as the emotional milieu created by E.B. Lewis’ illustrations in Jacqueline Woodson’s Each Kindness, a book which was only about the refusal of children to befriend a new student. In Antonio’s Card/La Tarjeta de Antonio, the illustrations allude to what is unspoken in the text—a sentiment of something missing in the lives of these characters who seem to be smiling through emotional pain. Perhaps this is meant to convey the way that Antonio sees his world as one in which no one ever fully smiles and this is the way the illustrator is allowing emotions regarding the absent father who went back to Mexico to influence the text, since the author doesn’t give voice to Antonio’s feelings about his father being gone. What is clear by the end of the story is that one of the things which shames Antonio—Leslie’s splattered paint overalls— becomes evidence of Leslie’s bond with Antonio and his mother—a portrait of his mother that Leslie has painted as a Mother’s Day present. When Antonio sees the painting, his viewing of it becomes the turning point in Antonio’s journey towards family acceptance in face of the adversity of verbal teasing.

There are some who would categorize this story in the anti-bullying category of their collection and while I wouldn’t, the text and illustrations’ depthful representations of a child’s emotional vulnerability to teasing in general and especially in regards to their loved ones, makes this a story that can easily demonstrate how much words hurt in a curriculum on bullying and compassion. But, without a guide, children will easily understand Antonio’s sensitivity toward his stepmom and his peers in this story whose natural complexity and convincing narrative make it well worth its status as a Lambda Literary Finalist.  (buy)

Recommendation: Highly recommended; ages 7+

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

Diversity Children’s Books Website is Live

Mixed Diversity Children’s Book Reviews is officially a website:  http://mixeddiversityreads.com/.

Book Review Categories Pic for mixed diversity book review page (1024x701)The Website, which founder Omilaju Miranda began as a page on facebook is now a full website with blog where you can find books with diverse protagonists by specific category. Books are easily locatable on a drop down menu. The site is dedicated to listing and reviewing children’s and YA books with protagonists who are either: biracial/mixed, transracial adoptee, bilingual, lgbt-parented, single-parented, or gender non-conforming. There is also a magazine where the site will feature writing for, and by children, and an opportunity for parents to send in photos and videos of their children reading or reciting stories and poems. Check out the book site and find the book for your little one today. If you are a writer or interested in communications and publicity, the site is actively seeking children’s book reviewers and interns to publicize and network with schools and libraries.

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

Bluish by Virginia Hamiliton

cover for Bluish by Virginia HamiltonMost of the time I pick books for my children based on their experiences so they know they are not the only ones. Many times, I pick books to introduce adventures we plan to do or places we plan to go. Often I pick books that reinforce our family’s values or our ways of being. But sometimes I come across a book with a new character—a character with a life story we have not encountered yet, but I know we will.

Dreenie, a fifth grader, just starting a new school is looking for a friend she can “talk things over with and do special things with.” Instead, she cares for her precocious little sister and a somewhat mixed-up and needy best friend. Then, she meets Natalie whom everyone calls “Bluish” for the color of her skin. Bluish arrives in her classroom in a wheelchair with a puppy on her lap and a knitted hat on her head. She comes and goes from school according to her own schedule and is hard for Dreenie to figure out, so Dreenie begins to write a journal all about Bluish. Through a class project, the two girls slowly become comfortable with each other and eventually become friends. Prompted by her visit to the doctor, the classroom teacher and the students have a heart-to-heart discussion about Natalie and we learn she has Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. The rest of the class slowly adjusts to having Natalie in class and begins to accept her ups and downs depending on how she is feeling that day. Natalie, also, finds her own way to join the class giving out hand-made knitted hats and teaching her classmates how to play dreidel.
The image on the cover of the book shows three girls in knit hats with varying skin tones and facial features. Natalie is identified as Jewish and Black and her mom bristles at the idea of kids calling her “Blewish”, not realizing her nickname “Bluish” has more to do with blue tint of her skin tone because of her illness. Dreenie and the third girl on the cover are never labeled with a particular heritage although Dreenie calls herself a “sorta sweet chocolate color” and calls Tuli “more honey color.” At one point, Dreenie’s little sister taunts her by saying, “I know who your mama ain’t, Drain. Because you sure ain’t one of us Anneva and Gerald Browns!” causing me to wonder if Dreenie was adopted but there is no more mention of this leaving me confused. But I am not the only one confused– honey-colored Tuli is right there with me. Tulifoolie pretends to speak Spanish singing out phrases, “chica-chica, do the mambo” and calling folks “muchcha” but is told by a Spanish speaking girl that she “gives Spanish kids a bad name.” Tuli lives with her grandmom in a not-so-good part of town. Tuli’s aunt is mentioned but never a mention of a mother or father–and no mention to confirm if she is indeed Latina. Your young reader might not have the need to know the exact heritage of Dreenie and Tuli and therefore might escape the confusion I experienced. All three girls play a major role in the story and present very different individuals who come together as friends. And that is a theme with which many readers can relate.

Recommendation: This book is appropriate for readers ages 9-14.
Reviewer:  Amanda Setty