Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Diverse Picture Book Reviews

It's coming! 

That's right, on Friday, January 27, 2017 we will once again celebrate Multicultural Children's Book Day, a day to share the many wonderful diverse children's books available to young readers. As a co-host, I will be here with a linkup for participants to post their diverse book posts. As part of this tremendous day, I received some books from one of our platinum-level sponsors:

First up:
The Granddaughter Necklace by Sharon Dennis Wyeth,
illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
Arthur A. Levine, an imprint of Scholastic, 2013, 32 pages, age 6+
As she is being tucked in for the night, Sharon admires her mother's shiny bead necklace. Her mother, Evon, begins telling her the story of the necklace, a precious heirloom that had been handed down from one generation of daughters to another at important moments in their lives. 
Each granddaughter's story is succinctly told, including the day she received the necklace. They begin with Sharon's mother Evon and her grandmother Mildred, back to her great (Cordelia), great (Sallie), great (Frances) grandmother, who came from Ireland to America. Unfortunately, Frances' mother is the only woman whose name is not known. 
What makes this story unique is that there is no mention of the family being bi-racial until you read the Author's Note, in which Wyeth gives a much more detailed explanation. It is based in part on the history of her how family. Within the narrative, readers are only aware that Sharon's family is bi-racial in the illustrations. But if you really pay attention to the illustrations, you will notice that Ibatoulline extends that part of the narrative with his wonderfully detailed acryl-gouache paintings.   
This is a wonderfully positive book about a diverse family that is so nicely connected to their past and proud of who they are. 
Kids are always asked to do a family tree as a class project in elementary school, and this is an ideal text to accompany that lesson. The book not only connects the young Sharon to her past but also to the future, when she gives the necklace to her own daughter. 

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage
by Selina Alko, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
Arthur A. Levine, an imprint of Scholastic, 2015, 40 pages, 6+
Part of the fight for civil rights that often gets overlooked is the right of people from different races to marry whomever they fall in love with. Alko addresses this important part of the civil rights movement in this picture book about the Loving family. It all began when Richard Loving, a white man, met, fell in love with, and married Mildred Jeter, who was part African American, part Cherokee, in Central Point, Virginia in 1958. They were immediately arrested and imprisoned for "unlawful cohabitation." While they had married in Washington, DC, where interracial marriage was permitted, Virginia was still segregated. But, in the 1960s, things were changing and though it was a long fight for the Lovings and their three children, in 1967, the Supreme Court struck down the state laws the outlawed interracial marriage, and, hopefully, changed things forever.
Alko did an exception job at narrating this difficult but important topic for young readers. Without talking down to them, she makes it clear what happened in age appropriate language, without have to resort to any of the uglier, darker aspects of the Lovings fight. The pencil, paint and collage illustrations done by Alko and her husband Sean Qualls add a warm, light note to the story as well, helping to emphasize that the Loving case was about their love first, and that changing the marriage laws was second.   
Be sure to read the Author's Note, as well as the note about the book's art. Alko has also included Sources and Suggestions for Further Reading for young readers who would like to explore more aspects about the Civil Rights Movement. 

Elephant in the Dark, based on a poem by Rumi
retold by Mina Javaherbin, pictures by Eugene Yelchin
Scholastic Press, 2015, 40 pages, age 4+
When Ahmad, a merchant, brings a very large mysterious creature home from India, naturally all the villagers were curious and go to Ahmad's house to see it.  But Ahmad is tired and wants to sleep, so that night, one by one the villagers enter Ahmad's dark barn trying to guess what the creature is. Since they can't see, each one bases their guess on the one small section of the great animal that they can feel. They spend the rest of the night and early morning arguing, each insisting their guess was the correct one, and missing the beautiful elephant Merchant Ahmad leads to the river.  If only they had put all their information together, they would have see the whole truth of Ahmad's creature instead of quarreling over who was right and all being wrong. 
Javaherbin's retelling of this tale is spot on. I have read other versions, and this is ideal for young readers. There is just the right amount of humor and lightness to not obscure the moral. Yelchin's gouache, acrylic and ink and somewhat witty illustrations really carry the feeling of ancient Persia, with bright but matted yellows, greens, and blues.
Elephant in the Dark is one of my favorite Rumi parables, and it is my hope that we will see more and more of his folktales and poems retold for children.

Zen Socks written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth
Scholastic Press, 2015, 40 pages, age 4+
Stillwater is back in this book that introduces young readers to more Zen philosophical principles. Here, the big furry Zen master teaches his new neighbors, Leo and Molly and their cat Moss, all about kindness, patience and selflessness. When Molly tells Stillwater that she thinks she will be as good a ballerina as her aunt in a day or two, he reminds her that it will take longer and lots of patience and practice. He follows this with the story of a young sword fighter who must also discover the value of practice and patience. Leo wants to play good guy/bad guy robots with Stillwater teaches him sometimes good guys can also be bad when they behave selfishly. Later, the three new friends go to the beach and Stillwater teaches them the value of kindness by saving the starfish that have become stranded on the beach. 
Zen Socks is a book that teaches its lessons as gently as the lovely ink and watercolor illustrations that accompany them. The three behaviors that are highlighted here are important for living a fulfilling, happy life that embraces the good and not so good in all people and for successfully becoming part of the community in which one lives, just as the quiet, wise Stillwater has.

What are some of your favorite diverse books? I invite you to share them with us on Friday, January 27, 2017 on the linkup at will be posted at Multicultural Children's Book Day, as well as on the websites of all the Co-Hosts, including here. 


1 comment:

  1. Awesome review Alex! We appreciate you! #readyourworld


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