Diverse Kids Books–Reviews

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Roc and Roe’s Twelve Days of Christmas by Nick Cannon and AG Ford #mixedkids #Diversekidsbooks

cover Roc and Roe's Twelve Days of ChristmasThis holiday time picture book about Nick Cannon and Mariah Carey’s twins celebrating Christmas caught my four-year-old daughter’s eye in the late morning after breakfast. The book was sitting on my dining room table waiting for me to review it when my daughter opened the front cover and immediately focused on the photograph of the Cannon/Carey family on the end cover page. (more…)

With Books and Bricks: How Booker T. Washington Built a School by Suzanne Slade & Nicole Tadgell #BookerTWashington #DiversekidsBooks

cover with books and bricksWith Books and Bricks by Suzanne Slade is a beautifully written biography of an important historical figure whose life story is not nearly as well-known as it should be. Delicately illustrated by Nicole Tadgell, the book chronicles Booker T. Washington’s evolution from enslaved biracial boy to dedicated educator and leader.

Washington was nine when the Civil War ended and all slaves were freed. But, as Slade writes, “Booker didn’t feel free. He had to work long hours in a salt mine so his family could survive.” Having been drawn to books as a child, he begs his mother to get him a book “And somehow, as often happens with mothers, a miracle appeared,” in the form of a spelling book. (more…)

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls

cover The Case for LovingI fell in love with this book the moment I saw it. The cover itself featuring the entire Loving family in a close embrace, seemingly on Dad’s lap as Mom and Dad exchange a gaze as warm as a hug, emanates warmth and makes me feel a sense of strength and belonging. Right now I let my four-year-old interpret the illustrations and make her own story but I have cleared a center space on one of our bookshelves to present this book and look forward to the day when I will read my daughter the words. Written and illustrated by an interracial wife and husband team—Selina Alko and Sean Qualls— who include their own short bio of being an interracial couple at the end of the book, the narrative weaves the sensitive story of the Loving family from the perspectives of Mildred, Richard, and their children with the harsh facts of U.S.America’s racial history. While the narrative portrays some aspects of the love story between Mildred and Richard, as children read the images and/or words of this picture book, they will connect with the Loving children through the cozy illustrations and narrative lines like “Donald, Peggy, and Sidney had two parents who loved them, and who loved each other.” The third person omniscient narrative voice switches from the children’s perspective to the parents’ to a compassionate voice detailing as delicately as possible, the disturbing realities of Reconstruction Era, Jim Crow, and other racist laws of United States’ history. (more…)

Lulu and the Rabbit Next Door by Hilary McKay

cover Lulu and the Rabbit Next DoorLulu and the Rabbit Next Door is part of a series of books by Hilary McKay that chronicle the adventures and misadventures of quirky, seven-year-old, brown-skinned Lulu and her equally eccentric and mischievous sidekick/cousin/best friend, Mellie. In this book, their adventure begins when Arthur moves in next door with his pet rabbit, George. Arthur begrudgingly accepted the rabbit as a gift from his grandpa and, to appease his mother and grandfather, he gives the rabbit minimal attention and care—often leaving him stuck in a cage for days with very little exercise. In lieu of “rabbit-napping”, Lulu and Mellie devise a playful scheme that eventually coaxes Arthur into spending more time caring for George. In the end, he also gains two new friends in Lulu and Mellie. (more…)

Firebird by Misty Copeland

Firebird by Misty Copeland coverFirebird is American Ballet Theater principal dancer Misty Copeland’s first children’s book. Now fast rising to the top of the American ballet scene, a feat that is virtually unheard of for a dancer of color, Copeland has been very vocal about the old-fashioned but very prominent and largely inescapable role of race in ballet, of her own struggles to be accepted and to advance as a so-called “non-traditional” ballerina. That she only just graced the cover of Pointe Magazine, a leading ballet monthly, at the very same time she debuted as Odile/Odette in Swan Lake makes the subject of this colorful picture book all the more a propos. Speaking to other young dancers of color, Firebird seeks to hearten those who face what seems to be insurmountable adversity. Through illustrations and a simple text that read as honest in their positivity and that, despite the meaning between the lines (i.e. it is ridiculously and yes, unjustly difficult for non-White dancers to make a serious career of dancing), communicate no bitterness and throw out no blame.

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Perfect Lil Blends by Luke Whitehead

cover for Perfect Lil BlendsPerfect 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…)

Always an Olivia: A Remarkable Family History by Caroliva Herron

cover Always an Olivia

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

I Am a Ballerina by Valerie Coulman

 cover I am a Ballerina    The pastel drawings of I Am a Ballerina are soft and subtle, and the story straightforward and sweet. Not overly pink and frilly, and not going too deep below the surface of a little girl exploring a new passion, this book would be a great read for children considering a new sport or interest.

            After watching a ballet performance on her birthday, little Molly decides that she is a ballerina. At first her parents’ response to her leaping around the house in imitation of the gazelle-like picture of a ballerina on her wall is, “Jump down, dear.” When she smears her face with baby-blue eyeshadow and rouge, announcing herself as beautiful as a ballerina, her mother tells her to, “Go wash your face, dear.” Finally, after she nearly knocks some things over, her father concedes: “If you’re going to be a ballerina, maybe you should take some lessons.”

            At Madame Cherie’s ballet school, Molly falls and trips, but it’s all part of learning. She practices and practices, and finally dons a merry-go-round horse costume for the ballet performance. The moment at the end of the book that Molly truly feels like she is a ballerina, however, is when her father lifts airplane-style: “It felt like flying. And then I knew…I am a ballerina.”

            As seen in some “diverse” children’s books, the author plays it safe, saying nothing about ethnicity or appearance, even though the illustrator makes a point of creating a distinctly mixed family. Molly’s father is Caucasian or mixed, with curly brown hair and a bushy moustache, whereas her mother is Asian-featured. In this case, however, since it’s a nice ballet story that’s realistic and not overly pink and filled with tutus, I don’t mind that Asian-looking Molly isn’t identified ethnically or culturally (for all we know, her father is her stepfather, or she’s adopted).

 

Recommendation: Recommended: 4-6 years

Reviewer: Yu-Han Chao

Mommy, Why’s Your Skin So Brown by Maria Leonard Olsen

cover of Mommy why's your skin so brownThe brown skinned, multiracial mixed heritage mother of two children who are lighter than her discusses with her children why she is darker than both of them and much darker than the son who has fair skin, silky blond hair, and blue eyes. The book reads as if the author simply transcribed a conversation that she had with her children. Her anger or annoyance with people who were asking the author if she was the nanny (according to interviews she has given) comes through evocatively in the tone of the narrative as well as on the book’s back cover blurb, which both address the necessity to admonish people to not allow their “curiosity to overwhelm their manners”.

That is a salient point that many parents of interracial families would like to communicate to those who rudely ask questions like “Are you the nanny?” “Is she adopted?” “Is that child yours?”, which confuse and sometimes sadden our children. However, in a children’s book, the tone of the mother’s frustration doesn’t communicate as a part of the children’s characterization and reads as the words of an angry author. It just doesn’t feel like it is from the children, and there’s nothing in the narrative to balance it off.

Points of the narrative that could have been the basis for beautiful illustrations of the entire family are missed. This conversation between the mother and her children is boring as a book read to a child and there are points that actually get confusing where the mother narrator is discussing where everybody got their different features (i.e. the mother speaks of getting her own dark skin from her grandmother, herself being a color in between both her parents, and her son getting blue eyes from his father and the mother’s grandfather) yet there are no images of the relatives to accompany this monologue.

This lack of illustration accompanied by no mention of the mother’s actual ethnicity (research into the author reveals she is biracial Filipina and this story is from her personal life) seems like a strong commitment to being vague. I’m sure the author doesn’t mention the ethnic heritages of her family so that the book could be used universally by the many parents of color of all ethnicities and races who face this scenario but because this book’s only story line is this family, the absence of a discussion of the family’s ethnicity and actual heritage leaves a palpable void. With no characterization for any of the characters in the book and a narration primarily from the mother’s perspective, sadly there is no story here. This is such a loss in part because this is the only picture book I’ve read that focuses primarily on the biracial child with almost exclusively Caucasian features. The other books which even present these children, present them as part of a duo led by brown biracial children or as part of an ensemble cast.

While I do not see this as an enjoyable read for children of any age as a standalone book, this book could easily serve as an interesting guide for adults on how to discuss this matter with their children and the points that can be covered regarding family features. If used in that matter, I would definitely suggest incorporating photos of the referenced family members into the conversation. (buy)

Recommendation: If your family is similar to the one in this book then, couple this book with your own family photos and exploration of your family tree or, for people with all types of family constructs and teachers, couple this book with either That’s My Mum by Henriette Barkow or My Mom is a Foreigner but Not to Me by Julianne Moore and this book can lead off the discussion of the serious aspects of a family dealing with people’s reactions to a mother (or father) looking racially different from her children.

 

Recommendations: For Adults to lead discussions on interracial families and phenotype differences.

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

Hello, Lulu by Caroline Uff

Cover Hello Lulu by Caroline UffHello, Lulu is a great book for beginner readers, but not necessarily the ideal book if you’re teaching your little one about diversity. The book introduces the reader to a little girl named Lulu and the important people and things in her life. The reader learns about Lulu and all of the members of her family. The board book itself features brightly colored backgrounds to help Lulu’s family members stand out. So while the illustrations visually cue us in on the family’s interracial composition, it’s never verbally explained. Thus, to bypass this subliminal message, you may want to point out the fact that Lulu’s parents are different races from the beginning. One other note: From learning about what Lulu’s favorite snacks are to how many pets Lulu has, your child is sure to notice a correlation or two in their own life (racial composition aside). 

 Recommendation: Recommended to introduce young readers to diverse-looking characters; Ages 2-5  (buy)

Book Reviewers: Kaitlyn Wells