Diverse Kids Books–Reviews

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In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco

In our mothers house coverThis is one of the best first person narrative children’s books I’ve ever read. The voice is so authentic I thought it was a children’s nonfiction story until I read the back bookflap. An African descendant woman tells the story of her life with her two mothers, Asian brother and carrot-top sister from their at-birth adoptions until their parents pass away, leaving the family home to the protagonist’s brother. Polacco’s narrative style is one of such candor and fluidity that as the protagonist shares with us the milestones of her life from becoming a big sister to seeing her mothers in dresses for the first time to finding emotional comfort in the home after her parents pass away , the reader is increasingly emotionally invested in their ever expanding world of friends, family and tradition. Polacco also includes the conflict of an anti-gay neighbor in the book, who turns the dial up on that confrontational anti-gay anger pretty high without actually saying “lesbian, gay, or homosexual.” The mothers handle the confrontation in a protective and reassuring manner that gives parents reading this book with children the freedom to explain as little or as much about sexual orientation as parents wish, including saying nothing about sexual orientation and just explaining that sometimes people don’t like others who are different. Illustrated with engaging animation and expressiveness, readers will see and feel a full spate of emotions as we do in real life. While the mothers demonstrate friendly touch affection towards each other and familial touch affection toward the children, for some, it will be important to see that the three children enter heterosexual marriages, framed in family portraits near the end of the book. The choice to show the oldest daughter and the son married to people within their “own” racial groups, demonstrates to me a silent acknowledgement of efforts made by the Italian and English-Irish mothers to encourage, support and preserve their children’s unique cultural identities. Complete with three children who grow up to become successful professionals with happy families of their own, In Our Mothers’ House is the multi-dimensional All American LGBT-parent family story.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; ages 6+

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

I Don’t Have Your Eyes by Carrie A Kitze

I Don't Have Your Eyes by Carrie A KitzeWritten with transracial adoptee children in mind, this book, with a series of lyrical statements, contrasting the differences in the physical appearances of children’s and parents’ body parts to the emotions, attitudes , and life perspectives associated metaphorically with the physical, sensorial, or functional purpose of the body part, communicates the conscientious and humane value system that parents teach and transfer to their children with such fluidity and beauty that you feel the text bringing you and your child closer and helping your child see the best in themselves and their depthful connection to you. In no cheesy, but a substantial, poetic, non-didactic prose, the book really conveys that who we are and who we help each other grow to be inside is what is valuable and what makes us family. The illustration is beautiful, realistic and includes illustrations of many different parent-child racial pairings including parents and children who share the same race but obviously different features so it doesn’t have to read as a book about “all of us racially different kids”; a child walks away from this book understanding that no one looks exactly like their parents but the loving way we navigate in the world is the offspring of our parents way of raising us.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 4-12

Book Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

cover for Maniac McGeeManiac Magee was first published in 1990, and received the prestigious Newbery Medal in 1991. The National Education Association named Maniac one of its “Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children” in 2007, the School Library Journal placed it among the “Top 100 Chapter Books” in 2012.

That’s pretty high praise, suggesting the book’s endurance and strength over 20 years. Reading it for the first time in 2014, I wished I had read it when my children were in elementary and middle school. We could have talked about the magic realism that works well in the novel: Maniac’s powers to run, to hit homeruns, and to untie huge tangled knots. Those powers seem to serve Maniac (real name Jeffrey Lionel Magee) well after his parents die in a tragic accident when he’s 3 years old. He runs away after 8 years with his angry aunt and uncle, and ends up in Two Mills, Pennsylvania. He doesn’t realize, at first, how racially divided the town is. Maniac is white, and one of his first and best friends is Amanda Beale, a black girl who treasures books, and whose family takes him in for a short time. His football interceptions and his fearlessness entering a scary backyard build him a reputation among both black and white children as a “maniac.”

Much of the book is about Maniac’s search for a sense of home, as racial and other incidents cause him to keep moving, and make him wonder if he is causing problems for people he cares about. He becomes friends with a washed up minor league baseball player. Maniac teaches Grayson to read and celebrates a sweet Christmas with him. He tries to help a couple of rowdy little brothers stay in school. He eventually ends up homeless again, living in the buffalo pen at the zoo. After one more challenging adventure, Maniac finds his way back to the Beale family.

The themes of racism, illiteracy, and homelessness, plus the blend of an orphan’s magical talents (including his ability to travel long distances and not attend school) provide lots to talk and think about. The 46 (short) chapters are appropriate for third to ninth graders. Social media and electronic devices may have changed a lot in the last two decades, but this story of a child figuring out his way in the world remains compelling.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; ages 8-14
Reviewer: Maureen McCauley Evans

 

Kimchi and Calamari

cover for Kimchi and CalamariJoseph Calderaro turns fourteen at the beginning of this engaging, humorous story of a Korean born Italian American kid who is thrown into a quagmire of emotions when, on the heels of his social studies teacher giving him ancestry project that makes him feel that he has no history or ancestral connections because he is adopted, his father gives him a corno for his birthday, as is the Italian cultural tradition in their family
While the major plot of the novel is Joseph’s search for his Korean mother and family, he also has a crush on a girl and teenage awkwardness to overcome. In this story that offers no dreamy endings, Rose Kent writes such a convincing and vulnerable narrative through Joseph’s first person voice that readers will laugh and cry growing close to Joseph and the people in his close circle. Readers will feel agitated with Joseph’s whining, tattle-tale younger twin sisters—the biological daughters of his parents, laugh with Joseph’s best friend who pushes him to do the search for his birth mother and hold their breath in empathy with his father whose fear of rejection and discomfort with the issue of Joseph being of Korean ancestry keeps him from even talking about Joseph’s birth nationality. Kent seamlessly weaves into the story the many ways in which Joseph feels inadequate as a Korean and rootless as an Italian. In addition to the disappointment of finding the “wrong” birth family, he also meets a Korean immigrant family who stereotypically own the Dry Cleaners and have a daughter who is an academic prodigy whose Korean language and cultural traditions exacerbate Joseph’s sense of being “un-Korean”.
At the center of the novel is the drastic and desperate action Joseph takes to hide the fact that he doesn’t know his Korean ancestry and the drama that unfolds and upturns Joseph’s life in the wake of his tortured decision. Ultimately, Joseph’s father breaks his silence, Joseph works to repair the relationships he has broken and his family strategizes an approach to integrating Joseph’s Korean roots into his Italian-American/Korean life. Anyone who likes to read will read ‘Kimchi and Calamari’ twice and love it. Others will read this book and find a powerful story of defining identity, being lost and found as a transracially, internationally adopted child.

Recommendation: Highest Recommendation; ages  9-14

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

A Tale of Two Mommies by Vanita Oelschlager

cover  A Tale of Two MommiesAll dialogue, this rhyming book is a conversation between the adopted son of two others and his friends while the protagonist and his friends play on the beach. As they run, play ball, swim, and have other beach fun, the questions and answers volley in sets of two. “Which mom is there when you want to go fishing? Which mom helps out when Kitty goes missing?” “Mommy helps when I want to go fishing, Both mommies help when Kitty goes missing.” The narrative continues in such a trajectory until it includes answers in which the protagonist says he is the one doing certain things. This is a full portrait of the emotional and activity life of a family from the perspective of a child who is increasingly taking on responsibilities. The child happens to be the African-Descendant child of two white moms but that is not discussed. This is a story with which every child who has taken note of how their parents nurture and mentor them, can identify.

Recommendation: Recommended; ages  Ages 2-8

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza

cover for A mother for chocoI am so impressed with this book. Love this story. Slightly reminiscent of Dr. Seuss’ Are You My Mother, Choco is a yellow and blue chick who needs a mother. Many of the animals of the forest tell him they can’t be his mother because he doesn’t look like them until Mrs. Bear takes him in, lets him define what makes a mother and, upon doing those things, the two decide that she is his mother despite the fact that she doesn’t look him. At his new home, Choco has three siblings who are all different species of animal—none of them a bear. This felt so good to read, and the illustrations were rollicking fun. Every home should have this book but I think this is an especially easy way to help a little one see transracial adoption family structure as fun and “normal”.

P.S. My daughter immediately identified the bear as Choco’s mother before the story concluded that it would be so, which I think is a sign that we create “normal” for our children.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 0-10

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

Best, Best Colors/ Los Mejores Colores by Eric Hoffman

Best Best Colors by Eric HoffmanI like everything about this book. The watercolor illustrations are dreamy and perfect for a book focused on a boy’s struggle with loving all the colors of the rainbow. Written simultaneously in Spanish and English, this is the story of the protagonist Nate having trouble deciding which color is his best color so he keeps on changing his mind based on liking a new object. Whatever color the sneakers or cape or paints are is his favorite color. He wants to integrate whatever color is his favorite into his world and he chooses his “best mom” or best friend according to whether or not they say “yes”, he can have the color in his life the way that he wants. When they say “no”, as mothers must, he takes away best mother status—which is such a candid representation of the mercurial nature of children. Without making reference to it, we see Nate with his moms and his sister who are all different races/ ethnicities (Nate and one of his moms are African Diaspora people while his other mom is Caucasian and his sister is East Asian) enjoying life on Nate’s journey of figuring out what and who he likes best. In the end, his nightmare of colors fighting opens his mind to choosing an object in which all the colors get along: the Pride Flag. This is one of the few books representing LGBT parents with an African Diaspora mother or child so it is refreshing that is has a well-written story line independent of its representation of diversity.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended

Book Review by Omilaju Miranda

Book Review for Over the Moon—An Adoption Tale by Karen Katz (transracial adoption)

Book Review for Over the Moon—An Adoption Tale  by Karen Katz

A fairy tale story of the at-birth adoption of a Central American daughter by her parents from the United States. Through magical, mosaic illustrations and mythical language, we learn of a family connected in dreams before the child is even born. The flight the parents take to get their daughter when she is born is on an airplane but the illustrations show the parents flying freely through a multicolored night sky seemingly flying on the fulfillment of their wish to be parents instead of on an airplane. The baby’s first night is chronicled, including the fact that she grew in another mother’s stomach who couldn’t afford to take care of her so mommy and daddy came to take care of her as the fulfillment of their life’s wishes. Then, baby girl goes home where the people who were excited to meet her even before she was born are the family and friends cartwheeling through the streets in celebration of her arrival. Parents and children will be carried away by the magic of this story.

Recommended.

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda