Category Archives: we need diverse books

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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In honor of…

gone crazy in alabamaI’m not the biggest fan of all the special months.  Theoretically, they help highlight authors and issues affecting different groups (African-Americans, women, Latinx, LGBT folks, Asians, etc.), and I have no problem with that.  But shouldn’t we really be looking for more diverse books ALL year?  Of course.

Anyway, it’s February, so this year, I’ve decided that I’m looking at this as an EXTRA reason to highlight great African-American and African authors and characters.  Below are some of my favorites of the past few years:



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Dream. Do. Believe. Achieve.

hey black childRead this one, and be sure to also read the author and illustrator notes when you’re done.

Because this is a book about more than the words on the page and the really wonderful and expressive art which accompanies it.  The words reach out. The pictures draw you in.  And if you take the time to sit and think and read it again, different ideas will come at you – uncomfortable ideas for some, liberating ideas for others.  And then talk it all through with all the kids around you.

Hey Black Child  by Useni Eugene Perkins and Bryan Collier

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Camel derbies and dreams

The-Wooden-Camel-cover-copy-12.49.13-PM-300x300Etabo spends a lot of time thinking about camels and camel racing.  His dream of becoming a camel rider might have some obstacles – his family has to sell off their camels, for starters.  But his dreams, as hazy as they sometimes seem to him, can carry him through hard times and provide some insight into his life for people like me on the other side of the world.

There are beautiful illustrations accompanying the story, and they’re filled with enough detail to do a little imagining and dreaming wherever you are.  Perfect for talking about the world around us and how families and dreams comfort us wherever we are.

The Wooden Camel by Wanuri Kahiu and Manuela Adreani

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