Diverse Kids Books–Reviews

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Happy Birthday, Lulu! by Caroline Uff

cover happy birthday , LuluA perfect first picture book, this is about little girl’s birthday morning ritual and enjoyment of her birthday party. The color pencil drawings make all the characters look like dolls—a comforting approach to illustration for the small child. Lulu—the protagonist—happens to be a child of mixed heritage (white mom/black dad); she has an older sister and a very diverse set of friends. This is a great book to engage your child in the discussion of birthday parties. Uff has several more in the Lulu series.

 

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda for Ages 0-4

That’s My Mum by Henriette Barkow

Inside page--Kai with his mom and Amelia with her mom

Inside page–Kai with his mom and Amelia with her mom

That’s My Mum is a book that will have obvious significance for many in the Mixed-Heritage communities. One of the things I like about this book is that while the protagonist and first person narrator is Amelia who is brown with a white mother, her best friend whose family gets just as much space on the page is Kai, a biracial white boy whose mom is brown-skinned.Book Cover for That's My Mum by Henriette Barkow and Derek Brazelle

This is only the second picture book I’ve come across that gives attention to the fair-skinned, straight-haired children of brown mothers and the only  picture book with a full story arc that does so. The author smartly pairs Amelia and Kai to show that their emotional responses to the mother mix-up are the same. Together, Kai and Amelia face the emotionally and pragmatically challenging issue of people questioning their relationships with their mothers. Though these two friends find the mother mix-up frustrating and saddening, the language of the book remains

light while giving realistic attention to the children’s feelings and communications with people outside of their family. In a humorous twist to their story, the two friends collaborate to create a solution to their shared issue. Many of their ideas are silly, one of which they reject out of self-love and appreciation for what they look like. Ultimately, they decide to make buttons with photos of their mothers– a solution that if noticed by others would completely clarify their relationship with their parents and will put a smile on the adult reader’s face as it represents the innocence and innovation of children’s minds. Child readers may still be confused.

The author’s effort in the middle of the book to demonstrate through the narrative language, the confusion other people face when interacting with them, actually results in confusing the reader as the illustration and the wording are not entirely clear. Due to this, I’d place reading age at no younger than 6-years-old.
Published by the London based Educational Company Mantra Lingua, the book ships from England and is published in dual languages. My copy is in English with Urdu translation, pictured is an English-French copy but the book cover states that it is available in English with 22 other languages. The one drawback to this book for those outside of England –the four weeks it takes to receive the book when ordering through Amazon.com. Enjoy.

 

Recommendation: Highly Recommended especially for families with brown or yellow parents of white appearing children since this is only the second picture book that I’ve found which acknowledges these parents and children.

Book Review by Omilaju Miranda.

Dream Dancer by Jill Newsome and Claudio Munoz

cover for dream dancerA ten-year-old dance prodigy who happens to be of mixed heritage (Latina and white) breaks her foot and goes through the emotional and physical process of recovery until she can dance again. I say “happens to be” because her ethnic heritage is never discussed in the book; we just see her parents and grandmother are of different races. Easy language and an enchanting storyline tell of Lily’s transference of her emotional attachment to dancing to dancing doll. Breezy, evocative writing and illustrationcarries the reader through Lily and her doll’s experience in this story that portrays a child literally falling and getting back up again on a grand scale and rebuilding her dreams.

 

 Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 3+
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

Mixed Like Me by Gina Galliday-Cabell

 Mixed Like Me book coverThe number of times the kid in this book says he doesn’t want to be mixed and the emotion with which the author writes it hit me so hard I was hurt, angry and turned off. I thought, “I can tell why she had to self-publish!” which isn’t really fair because there are some well written books that are self published. I imagine she wrote this book by putting her child’s actual feelings and a real conversation with her kid on the page but for me it kicks so hard, I wouldn’t read it to my 3-year-old; maybe a five and older kid who actually feels this way or needs guidance in peer counseling to help a mixed friend feel better about him/herself. The way the kid learns to feel better about himself is also challenging because way too much of the language that should come from the mother comes from the boy a la, “I know this is what you think of me mom” but there’s no continuity because he is not repeating or restating anything his mother has said. I would show this book to my daughter while not reading it just so my daughter could see an mixed child and his mom. The father is absent although he is referred to in the text. This is valuable for those single mother households. I will either make up my own words or just talk about the pictures and let my daughter make up a story. To me, the kid looks scary or zany looking in half the illustrations which some parents and kids may enjoy. That’s not my thing though.

Recommendation: Not Recommended; Ages 4+

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

Yes We Can: A Biography of President Barack Obama by Garen Thomas

cover Yes We Can biography of barack obamaThe book ‘Yes We Can: A Biography of President Barack Obama’ is an accessible read on Obama’s life from childhood to 2008 for children 8-12

Black is Brown is Tan by Arnold Adoff

cover for Black is Brown is TanLike others, I am thankful for this book because it was the first book in the United States that put an interracial family on the page. The illustrations are engaging but the text itself is difficult to follow unless you sing it. Doesn’t matter the tune you apply, just enter the story as a song and it will be easier to read although even with that approach, you will still, occasionally trip over the writing. Making maximum use of the canvass, the book shows the interracial family—a black mother, white father and their two children; one a boy, the other a girl—in a wide variety of scenes of life including ones with family members other than the parents. The text also addresses those differences between the mother and father being classified as “black and white” but not actually being those colors which is really good for the young child who is trying to sort how people are both brown and “black” or pink and “white” at the same time. Not that this text will clarify the issue for your little one but it at least acknowledges it. Other than that, the history behind this book, which has had many reprints since 1973 when it was first published, is laudable. The author is Arnold Adoff, the poet husband of celebrated author Virginia Hamilton. Adoff and Hamilton married in 1960, at a time when interracial marriage was still illegal in 28 U.S. states. Thirteen years later Adoff wrote this book for children like his own. It has been a mainstay of mixed heritage children’s literature for forty years.

Recommendation: Highly recommended as a part of literary history and an okay picture book with beautiful illustrations as well.

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

 

What A Family! By Rachel Isadora

cover What a FamilyFrom hair to toes, cousins share similar features even when those cousins appear to be of different racial heritages. In this book, lively illustrations and funny descriptions of common and rarely thought of characteristics are an alternative way to read a family tree. The book shows several generations of the family highlighting the physical links across generations of cousins.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 2-10

Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda

Cinnamon Baby by Nicola Winstanley

cover for Cinnamon BabyThis is the fairytale-like story of Miriam, the Baker and Sebastian, the Violinist falling in love, being idyllically happy and then being derailed by a baby that in true, melodramatic fable style, won’t stop crying. Illustrations by Janice Nadeau show the baby crying a river that covers half of the city, show her mother doing somersaults and juggling balls as well as all the normal things—rocking, singing, reading, walking the floor—to stop the baby from crying. Finally, Miriam and Sebastian take the “dusky” baby who Sebastian knew was the “most perfect ever” to the bakery. There, she bakes all the bread she normally bakes, as always saving the cinnamon bread for last and finally, when she makes the cinnamon bread, the baby stops crying, smiles, and falls asleep. This is a story that I think many parents of newborns or who remember the newborn years will enjoy. As you read the pages of Miriam and Sebastian’s experience you may remember the days when you tried to find that perfect solution to stop the “rhythmless crying” of the little one with whom you are reading the book. As an exaggeration of that crying, ‘Cinnamon Baby’ challenges the perception that babies are “just so cute” or “bundles of joy.” This book is a fun conversation starter on babies. My 3-year-old daughter who always thinks babies are cute said, “Oh, that baby crying is so annoying but she is sooooo cute.” That conflict mirrors the conflict felt by the Cinnamon Baby’s parents and probably most parents. This is a fun read for parents and children.


Recommendation: Recommended; Ages: New Parent and 4+
Book Review by Omilaju Miranda.

For My Family, Love Allie by Ellen B. Senisi

cover for For My Family, Love, Allie2The author’s choice to illustrate the book with photographs instead of fine artwork adds a unique dimension to this book, which tells the story of Allie, a young, elementary school-aged girl who wants to make a gift for her family members that are visiting tomorrow. On the way to making something special, she helps her mother and grandmother cook dinner, tutors her siblings and makes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for her brother. Her mom and grandma forget that Allie wants to contribute to the family gathering but when Allie has a dramatic response to her disappointment, she and her mother choose a gift for Allie to make. The reader gets to see Allie make her gift – peanut butter treats, and read of the sense of accomplishment Allie feels when finishing. As members of both sides of her family arrive, everyone bearing gifts, the story is filled with smiles, hugs, people cooking in the kitchen, barbecuing on the grill, and everybody playing children’s games. Right after people stop eating, worried that no one will taste the treats she made because they are full, but encouraged by her grandmother, Allie serves her treats to her family, all of whom, it turns out, actually did have just a little more room for a dessert made by young hands.
The dominant theme of personal accomplishment is accentuated by the author’s choice to use natural life (as opposed to staged) color photography. The reader feels like they are inside two days of Allie’s life which is very relatable. And to top off the “accomplish something yourself” theme, there is a recipe in the back of the book along with ideas for homemade gifts, easy for a child to create. Parents will enjoy reading this story with their children and making the treats and gifts listed at the end of the book.

Recommendation: Recommended; Ages 4+
Book Review by Omilaju Miranda

Jalapeno Bagels by Natasha Wing

cover for Jalapeno BagelsWith beautiful illustrations from Robert Casilla, this story which reads like a training and orientation day in a bakery, comes to life. This is a first person narrative from Pablo, the son of a Mexican mother and Jewish father who own a bakery together. Pablo has to decide what to take to school for International Day and throughout the story as he helps his mother make Mexican pastries and his father make Jewish pastries, he questions if each pastry is the one he should take to his school. A story peppered with Pablo’s easy translations of his parents’ Spanish and Yiddish words of expression and names of food, makes one feel like they are in a regular day in the life of Pablo and his parents. On this day, Pablo decides to take Jalapeno Bagels to school because, like him, they represent the cultures of both of his parents. The back of the book contains two recipes and a glossary of the terms used throughout the book. While I think this is a valuable representation of a Mixed Heritage family of Mexican/Jewish ethnicities which gives some history of the two ethnicities, the most exciting aspect of the book is its title.


Recommendation: Unenthusiastically recommended for the sake of diversity representation; Ages 4+
Book Review by Omilaju Miranda.