Diverse Kids Books–Reviews

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First Rain by Charlotte Herman

cover for First RainFirst Rain by Charlotte Herman and illustrated by Kathryn Mitter is a wonderful tale of personal growth through family love. When Abby and her parents move to Israel they are sad to have to leave Abby’s Grandma behind. As Abby finds out that Israel is an exciting new place, she tells her Grandma all about her new experiences through letters and telephone calls. Abby’s relationship with her Grandma is poignant without being emotionally heavy. Their love carries the reader through the text and Mitter’s bright illustrations.   (more…)

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A Talk with the Author: Madhvi Ramani brings new book Nina and the Magical Carnival to life with a “live” reading and interview.

MadhviandNinaandmagiccarnival.jpg Author Madhvi Ramani has brought us three delightful, globe-trotting journeys featuring mystery solving, elementary school protagonist Nina who goes on adventures around the world in her aunt’s magical travelling spice shed. The child of immigrant parents from India, Nina is a first generation Brit trying to excel at school, avoid bullies and define her cultural identity in a way that honors who she really feels she is and isn’t too offensive to her family. In the first two books, Nina’s trips to India and China helped her solve some extraordinary problems. In the third novel, Nina travels to Brazil.

Today, the author reads us the first chapter of the third book in the series: Nina and the Magical Carnival, which gets released in the United States today, just in time for winter holiday gifting.

In addition to reading us the first chapter of her new release, Ramani took the time to discuss diversity in children’s literature and her debut novel, Nina and the Travelling Spice Shed.

Support diversity literature and give the young readers in your life some great reads by buying all three titles or just the new release, Nina and the Magical Carnival.

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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

Visiting my Father’s Homeland: Book Review for I Lost My Tooth in Africa by Penda Diakité

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Losing teeth is a rite of passage for every child and, based on twelve-year-old Penda Diakité’s I Lost My Tooth in Africa, a visit from the elusive tooth-fairy is a welcome surprise for children all over the world as well—even in Mali, West Africa!

In the story, Amina, a girl born and raised in the U.S., and her family travel from Portland, Oregon to Bamako, Mali, her father’s birthplace and childhood home. Amina’s loose tooth—which she discovers while en route to Mali— tags along. After her father shares with her that the African tooth fairy trades a chicken in exchange for a little boy or girl’s tooth, Amina is determined to lose her wiggly tooth  before this family trip to Africa is over.

Infused with a strong representation of words from Bamabara (a glossary is in the back of the book), the most widely used indigenous language of Mali, and Malian cultural traditions, I Lost My Tooth in Africa is a mildly suspenseful narrative that children between the ages of 5 and 8 who are also going through the “snaggle-tooth” phase could especially appreciate while learning informative tidbits about a new culture and geographical location. The children in your life will be further inspired by the fact that this book, published by one of the five major publisher’s of children’s books, is the creation of a pre-teen author and her illustrator father.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended ages 5-8

Reviewer: LaTonya Jackson

The Wakame Gatherers by Holly Thompson

cover for Wakame GatherersHolly Thompson tackles the difficult subject of war with grace and beautiful writing in The Wakame Gatherers. The book begins with a little girl saying, “My name is Nanami—Seven Seas—and I have two grandmothers from two different seas: Gram from Maine, and Baachan, who lives with us here in Japan.”

 Gram visits Japan, and several pages are dedicated to descriptions and illustrations of the beaches of Maine and Japan, with particular focus on the local color of Nanami’s Japanese hometown. As a translator between her two grandmothers, Nanami helps them compare and contrast their two lands, learns about hooking and preparing seaweed as she takes care to “[use] the right language with the right grandmother.”

 Then comes conflict: not in the present, but seeping through from history. The illustrations become dark and ominous as Baachan reminisces about the war. Nanami continues to translate, and understands, “when my grandmothers were my age they were enemies, their countries bombing each other’s people.” The two old women, through their shared granddaughter’s translation, apologize for their countries’ past actions, and in the space of two pages, a feeling of peace and happiness is restored as they return to wakame gathering.

 With exquisite illustrations and vivid descriptions, The Wakame Gatherers brings together two cultures by not just acknowledging similarities and differences, but addressing the past. Of additional educational value at the end of the book are a fact sheet about wakame, a glossary of Japanese phrases, and three wakame recipes.

 Recommended: Highly recommended. Ages 4-8.

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

An African Princess by Lyra Edmonds

cover for An African Princess by Lyra EdmondsThis is a lovely, simple story that deals with some complex identity issues without allowing any of those issues to feel heavy. A Mixed Heritage girl goes on a journey that affirms all the parts of her identity—Caribbean African Princess and United States acculturated, freckle-faced, city girl. At the center of this story is Lyra—a freckle-faced brown girl who lives on the tenth floor of an apartment building in the city but her mom tells her she is an African Princess. Starting with the light mentioning of Lyra’s African Princess ancestor captured from Africa and taken to the Caribbean, the story then moves to showing Lyra’s life as a city princess in the United States. Illustrated with collages, that make the reader feel like they are in the middle of an African Diaspora quilt world, the story of African quilts and robes that have traveled around the world as physical surviving representations of African heritage  is shown without being told.


When the kids make fun of her for claiming to be an African Princess, Lyra’s family plans a visit to see her mother’s kin in the Caribbean. Daddy, from whom Lyra has presumably inherited the reddish hair and freckles, helps Lyra count down the days to the trip. In the Caribbean, Lyra’s great aunt, shows her quilts made by hand which they use as Lyra’s royal robes. Lyra’s aunt also explains that from the original African princess in their family who had many children—there are now African Princesses all over the world and Lyra is one of them. After the visit to the Caribbean, Lyra is stronger in her identity as an African Princess. I like the fact that she doesn’t have to give up any part of her heritage to be the African Princess descended from a long line of African Princesses.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended;Age: 5+
Reviewed by: Omilaju Miranda