Category Archives: we need diverse books

So much there there

there thereIf you were fortunate enough to be born into a family whose ancestors directly benefited from genocide and/or slavery, maybe you think the more you don’t know, the more innocent you can stay, which is a good incentive not to find out, to not look too deep, to walk carefully around the sleeping tiger.  (p. 138-139)

I’m not a big one for direct quoting from books, mostly because it means I have to hunt down the quote.  This time I wisely bookmarked it right after I read it.  I kept going back to it and re-reading it as I finished the book.

Earlier on, Tommy Orange’s prologue points out the many ways American history has been revised to fit a benign image white people want to look back on fondly.  And while there is more history and more commentary on the state of American society, this book is also a fascinating human story about a group of urban Native Americans gathering for a powwow.

If you are white, it might make you rethink a few of your easy privileges, which is never a bad thing.  I could hope that people in power would read it, but given the state of our political world these days, I suspect the people who need to read it most would never read it – both because they seem to not be readers at all and because they are unlikely to seek out any criticism of a world where they are on top and feel like they deserve to be there.

But don’t miss it if you have a chance to pick it up.  The writing is beautiful, powerful, intense, and challenging, and the time you’ll spend on it will make you think differently about the world we live in and your place in it.

There There by Tommy Orange

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Beyond words

drawn togetherSome years ago, I took my then infant son with me to visit a friend and her mother for coffee.  They were both from Bosnia, and my friend’s mom spoke some English, but did not get much of a chance to practice it.  We all chatted for a while, and then my son woke up, happy and ready for attention.  My friend’s mom picked him up and toured him around the house, happily describing everything to him in Bosnian.  Did he care?  No.  Was he suddenly in love with my friend’s mom?  Yes.  She tickled his belly.  She made faces.  She was a dream.  Little ones really don’t care what language you speak as long as you are speaking to them.  Being the center of attention works in any language.

Once you’re a little older, having a relationship with someone who doesn’t speak the same language can be a little more challenging until you find the ways you can communicate beyond words.  And that’s pretty much this book.

It is a perfect and wonderful book.  The words are perfect; the art is perfect.  And there is so much love in it.  What a joyful reminder of the special relationships grandparents can have with their grandchildren, no matter what lives they’ve left behind.

Drawn Together by Minh Lê and Dan Santat

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Rock your curtains, Julián

julian is a mermaidJulián loves mermaids.  And really, why wouldn’t you?  They look fabulous in their sparkly, colorful costumes.  Becoming a mermaid is a combination of imagination, what you can find around the house, and finding the right place to show off your awesomeness.


Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

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Striped pants not required

almaAlma has one of those names that goes on and on.  Or maybe some of the names are not her favorites.  In any case, she is bopping around in awesome striped pants, not feeling like her name fits her.

Daddy can bring to life all the people whose names she shares, though, including a woman in really awesome striped pants.  (Nice touch.  Where can I get these pants?) There is more to us than our names, but it’s sure interesting to know how they came about, isn’t it?

The illustrations are light and sweet, and it’s perfect for any kid questioning their Edith or Jaquarian or Huong in a Jennifer and Sophie world.  Perfect for a quiet moment with a special little one who likes their name, too.  Maybe even the perfect way to talk about naming and how it works in different cultures.  Keep looking!  There might be more.

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

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Adventures in wallpaper

wallpaperWell, if any of us needed to find a reason to fear wallpaper…you’ve got one now!

I’m kind of kidding.  I helped a friend peel 1970s wallpaper off their kitchen once, and that’s probably quite enough to make me avoid it.

And yet, there is a very delightful picture book out in the world now, which imagines all kinds of lives happening in the layers of wallpaper.  There are even MONSTERS!  And rainbows!  And maybe a new friend or two, too.  The adults might keeping doing their “blah, blah” thing, but this girl will be off on an adventure to who-knows-where.  Perfect.

Wallpaper by Thao Lam

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Political turmoil & your daily life

night diaryYou wake up.  You get up.  You live your life.  Life changes. Repeat.

There are always things happening that can jolt your life right off its safe trajectory even in the middle of middle America – illness, death, losing a job.  There’s trouble everywhere, whether you’re in River City or not.

But, given that we’re citizens and  privileged in more ways than we probably realize, we don’t expect some national policy change to completely screw up our lives.  We don’t think we’ll have to move, simply because we’re one religion or another.  We don’t think we’ll lose our home and even some people we consider family.  We don’t expect to have to walk to the other side of a border and through a desert and just hope that no one kills us on the way.

Life and history is not like that, however, for all kinds of people in the world.  And that’s why this book is such an eye-opening and powerful thing.  Nisha is telling her story and the story of what happened when British rule left India and a national decision meant that millions of people had to move in one direction or the other.  She’s just a kid, but as the world swirls around her and flings people one direction or another, she has choices to make of her own.


The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

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This book is all over the place

theysayblue.jpgAnd that’s ok.

It all hangs together, the thoughts about colors and where you see them and how you see them and what you might do if you could float on a color or become a tree.  It doesn’t really even make sense if you’re looking for traditional story progression, but it’s beautiful, anyway — full of movement, full of imagination.  It stretches your brain a little and makes you wonder, “What else could I see or hear or touch or feel if I were looking closely?”

Roll with it.  You’ll be glad you did.

They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki

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Sunny spins. Sunny shines.

sunny-9781481450218_lgWhat I know about throwing a discus could fit on a baby’s fingernail, but you know what?  It just doesn’t matter if Jason Reynolds is writing about it.  I love Sunny as much I love Ghost and Patina and the rest of the team.  They are everyboys and everygirls.  We read about them and we know, deep inside, that while they look good on the outside — just like us– and can kick butt on the track –maybe not like us– they have problems, just like we all do, and they have the power to overcome them, especially if they’ve got a team, a family, some support.

And that’s the key for me and reading Jason Reynolds.  He is not writing for me, but he’s really writing for all of us, because his stories are so universal.  The representation he brings to and the light he shines on stories for kids is so important for kids who look like Sunny on the outside, and for kids who look like Sunny on the inside, and for kids who don’t look like Sunny at all inside or out, because these stories speak to us all.

Also, I feel like the beginning is very jazz and poetic and a little wacky.  And I totally dig that.

If you haven’t read the other two in the series, don’t miss them, either:

Ghost  — liowabrary review

Patinaliowabrary review

Sunny by Jason Reynolds

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Like the sun, I’m here to shine.

i am enoughSo many beautiful kids!  So much light and joy!  A few reminders of the tough things we must endure.  But in the end, we are enough.

We could all use that reminder some days, right?

Wonderful.  Just wonderful.

I Am Enough by Gracy Byers and Keturah A. Bobo

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A memory of a life left behind

islandbornHow do we remember the places we leave behind?  How do we create our history when we can’t remember it?

Lola has a class assignment to draw the place she (and her family) came from.  In a class of immigrants, there are all kinds of places to draw and imagine – pyramids, jungles, cities, canals.  Lola can’t remember much about her own Island, but by talking to her community, she collects images and ideas she can combine into something she can understand and share.

Islandborn’s art and text illustrate both the good and the bad of the past, which is the most powerful part of this amazing whole.  It’s easy to think that children won’t understand the destruction of a hurricane or something like political corruption, but they see bad things every day on some level, just as adults do.  Being honest about the beauty and the horror – without dwelling on particulars – creates a more complete picture of who we are and where we’ve come from.  Superb.

Islandborn by Junot Díaz and Leo Espinoza

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