Diverse Kids Books–Reviews

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Emma and Meesha my Boy: A Two Mom Story by Kaitlyn Taylor Considine #twomoms #Diversekidsbooks

cover Emma and Meesha My boyEmma and Meesha my Boy by Kaitlyn Taylor Considine is a short rhyming story about a little girl named Emma, her two moms and their chubby cat. Emma, who looks delightfully naughty, learns how to interact and treat her cat properly with help from her Mommy and Mama. In the beginning Meesha my Boy, as Emma calls her cat, is traumatized with dress up, by brown paint, and being picked up but in the end Emma is cheered on by her moms as she pets him, feeds him and cares for him gently.

This book addresses the fact that Emma is part of a two mom family, but this is not the main topic of the book. The author approaches this topic as a matter of “just so you know”. The reader gets the clear message that having two moms is completely normal and nothing to really focus on. But a little girl and her cat—now, that’s a good story.

Recommendation: I highly recommend this book for readers 3-6 years old.

Reviewer: Amanda Setty

Publisher: TWOMOMBOOKS; Publication Date: 2005

Buy Emma and Meesha My Boy Now

Promise Me Something by Sara Kocek

cover Promise Me SomethingDue to unfortunate zoning laws, Reyna Fey becomes the new girl at school and misses her old life dearly. While at her old school she was not part of the most popular crowd, she did have a core group of friends who’d been BFFs most their lives. Reyna makes for a relatable teen character in that she has a lot of drama going on at home and school. Her mother was killed in a car accident 7 years ago and since then her father has been raising her by himself. But, his most recent girlfriend, Lucy, is becoming a permanent fixture in their household and Reyna is not coping well with that scenario. Reyna finds Lucy particularly intolerable because a few months prior to the beginning of the story, Lucy’s reckless driving caused a wreck that severely injured, and almost killed, Reyna’s dad.

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This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman

cover for This Day in JuneThis Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman is an easy way to introduce a child to the joy motivating people to celebrate in Pride Parades every year. Easy to follow, simple, two line rhymes in inconspicuous locations on the pages, which seem to overflow with vibrant illustrations, describe the many sights common in a Gay Pride Parade. Not a part of the sparse text, but present in the illustrations are many of the political messages that are commonly seen at a Gay Pride Parade. While the illustrations are fun, this isn’t like the books we normally review, which represent LGBT-parents leading a family. There are children in a few of the illustrations but most of the illustrations feature adults having parade fun, which means that in addition to images of people with rainbow colored hair, parade floats, flags and Carnivalesque costumes, there are illustrations of men without shirts and adults kissing. When I saw the images of bare chested men, bikini-top wearing marchers and adults kissing, I had a strong oppositional reaction to the idea of showing this to a child however reading the discussion guide in the back of the book helped me to see that a child looking at these illustrations would not read the same sexual context that I see, into these images. (more…)

Donovan’s Big Day by Leslea Newman

cover Donovan's Big DayA close examination of the cover of Lesléa Newman’s Donovan’s Big Day — which features two, shiny gold rings dangling overhead — hints that the story involves a wedding. If you miss that cue, you’ll probably spend half of the book wondering just what Donovan’s “very BIG day” is all about. (Which could actually be a lot of fun for young readers!) But if you’re a fan of Newman’s work, you already know it’s not a “typical” wedding. Newman is one of a handful of authors who pens children’s books featuring same-gender parents and how their families are just like every other family out there. And Donovan’s family, as well as his big day, is no different. (more…)

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

The Purim Superhero by Elisabeth Kushner

cover for The Purim SuperheroThis 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

Molly’s Family by Nancy Garden

cover for Molly's FamilyKids don’t bite their tongue and with the blunt challenge of a six-year-old, Nancy Garden starts this story in which the protagonist, Molly responds verbally and emotionally to her classmate telling her that she can’t have the two mothers that she has drawn as part of her family make up. Molly’s mothers are her birth mother and adoptive mother (which is an important distinction in this category of books that have a strong representation of families made through adoption instead of one of the partners giving birth) but Molly doesn’t know those facts until later in the story when her mothers explain that to her . The teacher and a couple of Molly’s classmates are sympathetic to her hurt feelings and discomfort. Following the incident in the classroom, the teacher and then both of Molly’s mothers explain to her that the family you have is the family that is both possible and real. But the issue is not solved for Molly with these affirmations; she is still unsure of the validity of her two mother family, she is aware of her difference and has lost her confidence which is demonstrated by her leaving the drawing of her family at home on the 2nd day of the story. In a believable parallel with the process children whose home culture is significantly different from the societal norm go through to move from shame and insecurity to validation and acceptance of their families, it is only when the teacher tells Molly again that a child can have two mothers that Molly finally opens up to observing the ways that others are different and her family is real. Realistic illustrations and believable dialogue strengthen this story that gives a child of gay parents an understanding of their validity and other children an understanding of how families differ and live in harmony.

Recommendation:  Highly Recommended; ages 5+

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda