Our Favorite Day of the Year by A. E. Ali, illustrated by Rahele Jomepour Bell (9781481485630)
When Musa started kindergarten, his teacher explained that the other children around him would become his new friends. Musa wasn’t sure about that, they were strangers! His teacher also said that her favorite day of the year was the first day of school and that show-and-tell that year would center around each child’s favorite day of the year. Musa was thrilled, he knew that everyone would pick Eid along with him! Musa soon found out that the other children celebrated different holidays. A few weeks later, Musa and his mother brought in food and told the class about Eid. On Mo’s turn, he talked about celebrating Rosh Hashanah. Moises explained that his family celebrated Los Posadas on Christmas. Kevin’s family of scientists enjoyed celebrating Pi Day with plenty of pie. Each child had their own celebrations and all the children got to learn about one another’s cultures in a very celebratory way.
Ali’s story is focused on inclusion and demonstrates how that can look in a classroom filled with children from various cultures, countries and faiths. The story is straight forward and powerful, clearly showing that not all children celebrate Christmas and even when they do, it may not look the same. Readers will enjoy seeing not only the celebrations shared in the story, but others shown on the class calendar.
Bell’s illustrations are done digitally but also incorporate handmade textures, giving them a marvelous organic quality that warms them. The children and families here are diverse with multiracial families, grandparents raising children, and gay parents represented in the story.
A beautiful look at diversity and inclusion through family celebrations and holidays. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Salaam Reads.
Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices edited by S. K. Ali and Aisha Saeed, illustrated by Iman Rasheed (9781419740831)
Edited by two award-winning Muslim authors, this collection of short stories focus upon the celebration of Eid. The stories come from a variety of Muslim sects, cultures and backgrounds, offering a beautiful look at the expansive nature of the Muslim religion. The stories keep a focus on eleven and twelve year olds, many of whom are just starting to fast and many who discover the deeper meaning of Eid as they find a path through fasting as well. The stories also deal with deep issues such as divorce, friendships, hijabs, generosity, and family dynamics. At their heart though, each one is a positive force about seeing possibilities anew, finding ways to connect with one another, and pure joy.
The different voices and perspectives here provide a rainbow of experiences for children who are Muslim to relate to and those who are not to more deeply understand this religion. The positivity is uplifting and lovely to read, particularly during a pandemic. I don’t think it could have been better timed, frankly.
A winner of a short-story anthology, take hope and joy from this book. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy provided by Amulet.
Freedom Soup by Tami Charles, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcantara (9780763689773)
Celebrate the New Year in Haitian style with this picture book. It shares the tradition of making New Year’s soup that honors freedom and the end of slavery in Haiti. The soup is made every year by Haitians around the world and this year, Ti Gran is teaching Belle to make it. They turn on Haitian kompa music that sets the beat for their cooking. Herbs are ground in a mortar and pestle with meat then added. A boiled pumpkin is skinned by Belle. More ingredients are added to the pot after being chopped up. Then Ti Gran shares the story of Freedom Soup with Belle and the story of Haitians fighting for their own freedom from slavery. Soon family members come to celebrate freedom and the new year together, feasting on the soup that celebrates their history and traditions.
Charles’ writing has so many wonderful moments inside it. From Ti Gran telling Belle that she has “a heart made for cooking” to her descriptions of Ti Gran’s “dark-sky eyes” and the “pumpkiny-garlic smell” of the soup cooking. She takes the rhythm of the music and reflects that in her words too, so that one can almost hear it playing. The warmth of the kitchen, the beauty of generations working together, and the spirit of freedom all play across these pages.
The illustrations pick up the rhythms of the text and the music with Belle’s braids flying to the beat and her feet moving across the floor. Her sharp edges next to the soft curves of her grandmother make a visual music of their own.
This is a delicious picture book worth celebrating. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.
Our Celebración! by Susan Middleton Elya, illustrated by Ana Aranda (9781620142714)
A community heads to a celebration together in this vibrant picture book that offers a mix of Spanish and English. The celebration features a large parade with fantastic floats, marching bands, fire engines and much more. There is plenty of delicious food to try and refreshing drinks to sip. When the rain begins, the fun doesn’t stop, though everyone celebrates when the sunshine returns bringing with it a celebratory rainbow.
Elya does a marvelous job of offering Spanish words for children to learn. Almost all of them can be figured out from the context in the poem. I appreciate that she uses the Spanish words for many of the rhymes, rather than burying them in the center of the lines. This makes them all the more enjoyable to read aloud and great fun to figure out. The book will also welcome Spanish-speaking children and allow them to decode the English as well. It is a cleverly built picture book.
Aranda’s illustrations are filled with brilliant colors of sunshine yellow, deep purples, bright blues, and hot pinks. They show a diverse community celebrating together with big smiles, lots of fun and whimsical parade participants.
A bright and busy picture book that dynamically includes Spanish and English. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
First Laugh – Welcome, Baby! By Rose Ann Tahe and Nancy Bo Flood, illustrated by Jonathan Nelson (9781580897945)
In Navajo tradition, the person who gets a baby to laugh first gets to host the First Laugh Ceremony. So an extended family spends time with their baby attempting to get him to laugh out loud. In a variety of settings from a city home to where he is too hungry to laugh and then too busy eating to giggle. He spends time on the Navajo Nation with his grandparents, time on horseback. Music is played, water splashed, tummies tickled and still no laugh. Until his grandfather lifts him high, his grandmother whispers a prayer. So the ceremony is held on the Navajo Nation and filled with family and more laughter.
There is such love on each page of this book, filled with people spending time with a baby. There are quiet times of weaving and before getting up. There are active times of play. It all comes together into a rich family experience that leads directly to a Navajo tradition. The end of the book offers more information on the settings of the book, the ceremony and ceremonies from other cultures for babies. The illustrations focus on the family as well, depicting the different settings of the book warmly. Just as with the text, there is love on each page.
A warm look at the Navajo First Laugh Ceremony and a great depiction of a modern Native American family. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Charlesbridge.
King for a Day by Rukhsana Khan, illustrated by Christiane Kromer
It is Basant in the city of Lahore, Pakistan and Malik has only made one kite to use in the kite battles over the city. Malik is still sure of himself though, eager to show how fast his Falcon kite is. Malik is especially interested in teaching the bully who lives next door a lesson for all of the times he’s said horrible things to Malik and his sister. He also dreams of being the king of Basant, the best kite fighter in the city. Malik spends his day freeing other kites by cutting their strings, and at the end of the day he has a pile of kites at his feet. Then the neighborhood bully emerges again and tries to take a kite from a little girl, but Malik uses his new status as King to solve the problem.
Khan has captured a unique festival in Pakistan that is vivid, visual and offers children the ability to take on the city for a day. Malik sits in a wheelchair throughout the book, but it is never mentioned in the text. This quiet acceptance of a disability adds power to the idea that Basant is a holiday for everyone and that all abilities and ages can participate. Khan has a nice touch with the kite battles, creating drama by sharing details but also making sure that the story is fast-paced and interesting.
Kromer’s illustrations are a beautiful mix of paper art and textiles. Using textiles from the region brings in the deep colors and textures. The paper arts capture the crispness of the kites in the sky and also the beauty of the people. The mix of the two has a richness that suits the subject.
Celebrate Basant with this picture book that offers a glimpse of the Pakistani culture through the eyes of a young boy. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from digital copy received from Edelweiss.
Thanking the Moon: Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival by Grace Lin
Join a Chinese-American family as they head out into the night to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. They bring a night-time picnic and set up the moon-honoring table. There are glowing lanterns and tea to drink. There are also special mooncakes to munch. Then everyone thanks the moon for bringing them together and make secret wishes. This will have every child wishing that they could celebrate the Moon Festival too.
A gentle and simple story, Lin offers a glimpse of Chinese heritage in this picture book. With just one or two lines of text per double page spread, she invites readers to the picnic and the celebration. Her illustrations are jewel-toned and delightful. She fills the night time sky with swirls and plays with other patterns throughout as well. From the plate to the tea cups to clothing and lanterns, everything has a touch of pattern to catch the eye.
This short, simple book concludes with some additional information on the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival that will answer any questions that readers may have. Lin has once again created a book that is inviting, interesting and culturally fascinating. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House.
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What Will You Be, Sara Mee? by Kate Aver Avraham, illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien
Sara Mee is about to celebrate her first birthday. For Korean Americans, that means that she will participate in a special game called toljabee which will predict what she will be when she grows up. Her older brother Chong can’t wait to see what items she will pick from the table. But first there is plenty of preparation for the big day, including special clothes for Sara Mee, great food, and music. When the time for the game comes, Chong is allowed to help set the items before Sara Mee. What will she pick?
Part of the specialness of this book is the depiction of the extended Korean family, some who still live in Korea and others who live in the United States. There are grandparents, aunts, uncles, and more who bring the event and the book to life, filling it with faces and noise. Avraham’s text is sprinkled with Korean words and written in a light tone that invites the reader into this family get-together. O’Brien’s art is done in ink and watercolor. The smiles on all of the faces as well as the use of bright colors really create a book filled with joy.
A welcome book about Korean Americans and traditions, this book should find a place on library shelves across the country. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.