Diverse Kids Books–Reviews

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Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Takes Off #WeNeedDiverseBooks #WeHaveDiverseBooks #DiverseKidsBooks #Magic #Hispanic #Latino #SingleMom

Real Life: Imagined

cover for Zapato Power-Freddie Ramos Takes OffFreddie Ramos’s story is pretty common: Mom worked to get through community college in order to get a better job, Dad passed away while in the service; neighbors, friends, and teachers all make up the atmosphere for his ordinary life. But one day Freddie gets a box with a pair of purple shoes (which is great because now mom doesn’t have to buy any!) and these shoes give him ZAPATO POWER! So Freddie has the power to zip by in a flash of dust and smoke. How does he use his super powers? Where did the shoes come from? How will this saga continue? Keep reading… (more…)

Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj

cover Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood Varsha Bajaj’s novel, Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood presents the story of a bi-racial Indian-America girl who’s never met her father. She’s spent her life living in Houston, Texas with her mother being a happy, well-loved American girl who only knows one thing about her father: he is from India.

The story opens with Abby having an allergic reaction to coconut. After having to admit she knows nothing about the medical history of the father of her child, Abby’s mother realizes she needs to attempt to contact him, something she has not tried since she found out she was pregnant. After a very small window of waiting, she is finally able to contact her ex-boyfriend and as it turns out, he never received the registered letter she sent all those years ago explaining Abby’s existence. Abby not only has to deal with the shock that her father never knew about her—up until this point she believed he simply didn’t want to be a part of her life—but she also finds out he is a huge Bollywood star. The rest of the novel revolves around Abby traveling to Mumbai to meet her father and the other half of her ethnicity.

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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…)

Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldacchino

cover of Morris Mickelwhite and the Tangerine DressAs I finished reading this book I was saying out loud to myself: “I like it. I. Like. That.” 

This book drew me in to review it. I could not have delayed it if I wanted to.  Morris Micklewhite likes his home, pancakes, and lots of things at school, including a tangerine colored dress from the dress up box. He loves the way the tangerine dress makes him think of “the sun, tigers and his mother’s hair.” He puts the tangerine dress on over his pants and black and white striped shirt, and tries different, dressy, heeled shoes from the dress up box on. Morris likes the sound the dress makes when he walks, has a favorite pair of dress shoes that make the sound “click,click, click,” enjoys his nails painted by his mom, but does not like the way boys and girls bully him at school because of the dress.

The text deals accurately with the realistic, antagonistic responses that both girls and boys have to non-conforming gender performance amongst their peers,  with girls trying to pull the dress off of Morris’ body, boys excluding him from their games, and both genders verbally taunting him. Isabelle Malenfant’s pen and ink illustrations depthfully present each character’s many layered emotions and Morris’ purposeful, powerful, and vulnerable actions throughout the narrative.

Morris retreats to his home for a few days, taking refuge in his mom’s nurturing, books, puzzles, his cat and his dream. When he returns to school, he carries a painting of his dream with him, and when the boys refuse to allow him entry to their cardboard space ship, he builds one of his own. When the girls try to take the dress from him again, Morris stands up for his right to wear the tangerine dress until he is finished with it. Then, the boys who like the space ship Morris has built better than the one they built, allow Morris to lead him with his imagination and get to know him as an inventive, exploring fellow kid whose fun quotient is more important than the idea that he could change them into girls.  

The winning moment of this book after we go through Morris’ journey of social challenges and self acceptance is his self-confidence, expressed in the affirmative exchange he has with a little girl in his class named Becky.

When Becky snips, “Boys don’t wear dresses.”
Morris responds, “This boy does.”

And there he goes. Morris you have the right to be you.

 

Whether the child you read to, or who reads this, is gender conforming or non-conforming in their play, every child will be able to understand the emotional and psycho-physio pain they have in response to being bullied and not accepted, feeling the need to step away from all peers for a little while to take a rest from bullying, and the importance of their imagination to serve as a self-soothing coping mechanism; the power of their imagination to bring them joy and instill in them a sense of pride in themselves where they may have suffered from the jabs of other children. While the standard formula often works well, one of the unique things about this book as compared to others about bullying or intolerance from children is that there are no proactive adults involved in this children’s dispute. The protagonist and his peers work out their relationships on their own– a plot choice that models independence and self-reliance for the young reader. Without Morris or the narrator saying it, the story conveys the universal message of “I can do.” to readers.  (buy)

Recommendation: Highly recommended 3+

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

Something Special For Me by Vera B. Williams

cover for Something Special For MeVera. B Williams’, Something Special for Me, follows Rosa, once again as she narrates a series of situations in her life. Even as a child, I grinned when stories contained nods to a protagonist’s earlier titles and several details including the reappearance of the chair and coin jar from A Chair for My Mother lent that special touch here. The accordion also brings the idea of family tradition to in this book.

After the coin jar from A Chair for My Mother, is filled once again, Rosa’s mother and Grandmother decide to use it for Rosa’s birthday present. Rosa comes close to buying herself roller skates, clothes, and even a red tent, but backs out of each buy (to be honest, I was hoping for the skates).

After she hears a man playing an accordion and finds out that her Grandmother also played the same instrument, Rosa chooses to buy an accordion. I really enjoyed this ending because Rosa found a way to make herself happy, and bring a small joy to her mother and Grandmother. It was enjoyable to see Rosa doing something for herself this time. This is different from the approach to family loyalty in A Chair for My Mother and Music, Music, for Everyone in which Rosa is solely focused on her mother and grandmother.

I found Williams’ artwork, although somewhat simple, engaging. I was so intrigued that with each page, I tried to see every item in the artwork. Young girls may enjoy Something Special for Me moreso than other readers but Williams writes a story in which gender is not significant to the plot.

Recommendation: Recommended. Ages 5+

Reviewer: Warren Stokes

 

Justice Pon di Road by Aliona Gibson

(buy)

cover for Justice Pon di roadWhat I like about this book more than anything is the idea. A single mother who lives in the United States with her son Justice, takes him on a trip to her Jamaican homeland where he is immersed in a new culture and learns a new language. While they are walking along the roads (pon di road), they meet a variety of adult characters running businesses from small shops or road side stands. Justice gets to try new types of food and meet people who instantly adore him as he learns new phrases. The tone of the narrative voice is fun and I find it appealing that there are positive representations of entrepreneurial black Jamaicans, as well as positive representations of African Diaspora people with uncombed, natural kinky, coily hair and dread locks. Also, there’s a great historical timeline and glossary in the back of the book, which are valuable teaching tools.

What is not appealing is that the narrative is just too long for this story; the illustrations which look like prematurely exposed film photos are often eerie, the detail is difficult to see, and are often not well paired with the narrative. The discontinuity of the illustrations often occurs because one page of the narrative will go on and on and the only thing illustrated is the experience Justice had in the first paragraph or first sentence. I think if a teacher is looking for a way to make a history lesson on Jamaica or the Caribbean fun, sharing the first few pages of this book and the rich glossary and history section in the back with a classroom would be valuable. The simple tone of the narrative and the stroller riding toddler protagonist indicate that the story is targeted to ages 1-5 but the length and history section are more appropriate for ages 7-9. I don’t know if the narrative will hold the attention of either age group for its entirety but an adult who reads the book in advance and edits the story for their child’s attention span will share a unique story with their child and learn more about Jamaica than just the music with which we are familiar.

Recommendation: Recommended for educational purposes to adults who will work around the narrative. Ages 2-9.

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

‘Mine, Mine, Mine’ by Shelly Becker

cover of Mine Mine MineThis is a great story about Gail, the protagonist, learning to share. As an exciting break in the pleasant, prose of most of the books I’ve been reading lately, this story has conflict between two children, a tantrum over not wanting to share, youthful sarcasm, an arc of growth on the part of the 1st person narrator and it is all told in accurate rhyme, the melody of which I am certain contributed to holding my daughter’s attention so intently that she only interrupted me with one question during the read. The protagonist who doesn’t want to share her toys with her visiting cousin and then decides to share disgusting cast-off items, does by the end of the story— after her mother speaks to her twice and models sharing for her—learn to share and the reader is the recipient of a surprising shared gift. After we finished the story my daughter did something she rarely does—she took the book from me and not only asked if she could sleep with it (that she does all the time), she began to “read” the story back to me, telling it as closely as she could from memory. Sharing is a skill that most, if not all small children resist, so coupled with an energetic, melodic story, the topic captivates the young child’s interest. This book is sure to be a hit with your little one.
Although this book does not mention the protagonist and her mommy being the only ones in the household, it covers a large span of time in the protagonist’s life in which we never see a second parent. The first time I read it, I also thought the protagonist was a Mixed Heritage child although upon second read I’m not sure but there are certainly mixed heritage children who will see themselves reflected in Gail’s physical features especially in contrast to her mother’s and her cousin’s phenotypes.


Recommendation: Highly recommended
Ages: 3+
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

When Mama Gets Home by Marisabina Russo

When Mama Gets HomeEvery kid is self-absorbed, wants all their mother’s attention, sees the world through the lens of “mommies and daddies” and tolerates their siblings as much as they have to just to please their mother. So is the reality that many experience and that Russo writes in When Mama Gets Home. Three siblings begin dinner as they eagerly await their mother’s arrival from work, then each of them ambush her with their own agenda before she even has a chance to take off her coat. The mother is a diplomat, finding a way to give each child the attention s/he needs.  Although the ten-year-old protagonist has a teenage brother and sister, the protagonist gets the most time with Mama as she needs her for the end of night and bedtime routine. As parents, we always love stories that include the bedtime routine and carry the reader to bed and this one delivers, ending with a “goodnight” tuck in. When Mama Gets Home demonstrates how a family led by a single mother must be a team on which the children are major players and the mother communicates with a strong level of patience in order to make sure each child feels loved and heard.

 Recommendation: recommended; ages 3+

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman

cover for Amazing GraceGrace has a limitless imagination. Like many of the children who will read this story, she likes to dress up as any character she has ever seen or can imagine from spiders to pirates. When her teacher announces that the class is going to stage “Peter Pan”, Grace wants to play the lead role of Peter despite the fact that two of her classmates tell her she can’t play Peter because he is a boy and he’s white. Grace who lives with her single mother and grandmother goes home sad, and her mom and grandmother assure her that she can play Peter if she wants. Grace memorizes Peter Pan’s lines and Grandma even takes her to the ballet to see an Afro-Trinidadian friend of the family play Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet”. Grace wins the part of Peter and does an amazing job playing the role. Every child with an imagination will connect with Grace. Children of single mothers or parents who get tired but still make time to play will see themselves reflected in Grace’s family. My 3-year-old expected the story to continue so the fullness of the story arc will register more with readers instead of pre-literate children.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 6-9

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams

A chair for my mother coverWith the dedication to giving every single detail that is so commonly heard in a child’s story telling, Vera B. Williams spins a believable first person narrative in A Chair for My Mother . Rosa, the protagonist lives with her mother and her grandmother who have survived a fire and are saving their coins to buy a new chair because all their old furniture was “spoiled” in the fire. The day of the fire, Rosa got new sandals and her mother got new pumps; other details include the fact that one day, while helping out at her mother’s waitress job, Rosa peeled all the onions for the onion soup. Rosa, her mother, and grandmother take turns in the chair at the story before they buy it and take turns enjoying it once it is in their home. This is another Caldecott Honor book for Vera B. Williams. I like the consistency of the child’s voice, the cohesiveness of the family, support of the community that donates almost all the furniture for their new apartment, and colorful, emotionally balanced way that Williams deals with the sensitive issue of surviving a fire. At one point my interest did drift—I got a little bored but this goes hand in hand with the believability of Rosa’s voice. Children will often give you every single detail they can remember which can be challenging to entertain in real life as it was for me for two pages of the book. Vera B. Williams has written two other books in the Rosa series: Something Special For Me and Music, Music For Everyone. Rosa is a child whose first-person narrative story deserves a place in a child’s library.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 5-8

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda