I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib (9780525575115)
In this vibrant graphic novel, Malaka tells the story of growing up as a child of an Egyptian father and a Filipino mother in the United States. She learned to meet both families’ expectations though sometimes they contradicted one another and how to carefully switch between the two. There are stories of breaking unwritten rules in Egypt by skateboarding in the streets as well as tales of not being fully accepted by the Filipino kids at school. Malaka considered white culture something to long after, wishing for sandwich lunches and the lifestyles she saw on TV. As she grew up, she began to figure out how to value her own unique cultural background and celebrate it.
Gharib has created a graphic memoir that shows so many elements of being from an immigrant family, being a person of color, and being of mixed race and heritage. She is open and honest about her own struggles with asking the problematic question of where someone is from, of her own code switching, and her own disdain for her heritage as a child even while she loved her family deeply. Her book is a love letter to her families while still being an honest view of the impact of whiteness on children of color.
The art in the book is full of reds and blues, the colors echoing the American flag. The colors are used cleverly to show character’s hair colors and create diverse and inclusive illustrations. The graphic novel is well paced, full of blunt commentary about race and America, and just the right zing of food and culture.
A diverse and funny look at families, race and America. Appropriate for ages 12-18.
Reviewed from library copy.
Fearsome Giant, Fearless Child by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Julie Paschkis (9781250151773)
This is the third book by this author and illustrator pair that looks at worldwide stories and myths focused around a single type of story. In this picture book, they look at the prevalence of underdogs and fearlessness in the face of danger from around the world. Fleischman takes elements from stories from around the world and weaves them together into a multi-stranded story that pays homage to the differences in the tales while at the same time noting their similarities. Stories are pulled from Denmark, Italy, Ethiopia, Japan, Russia, Mongolia, Indonesia, England and several other countries. Together they tell the story of a young person who stands up to power and greed, often proving his own family wrong along the way. These are stories that will make you cheer for the child and their worth.
A master storyteller, Fleischman manages to create a singular story here while never taking away the signature pieces from each of the countries. Some pages have multiple threads that appear together on the page, noting the differences. Other pages carry the story forward, offering unique elements from that country’s version of the story. Along the way, there are ogres, kings, monsters, horses, bulls, jewels and harps. Still, the entire story works as a whole as well, creating a riveting tale of ingenuity.
Paschkis has created enthralling illustrations that tell each thread of the story in turn. The illustrations are framed by images that represent the country the story comes from. The Chilean pages has boars and guinea pigs. The Greek page is done in the signature blue and white with fish. At times, the images flow together just as the stories do to create a unique whole that still works as separate images.
Cleverly written and designed, this is one for every library. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy provided by Henry Holt.
Maisie’s Scrapbook by Samuel Narh, illustrated by Jo Loring-Fisher (9781911373575)
Maisie is sad that she can’t play with the bull by the fence. After all, her father tells her tall tales about little girls who are heroes. As the seasons change, Maisie has characteristics that are similar to each season. She is as “relentless as spring rain.” In the summer, she sees turtles in the stars with her father and she is as bright as a summer day. Fall comes and Maisie is scared of the bull in the field. Her parents love her in similar ways, making her food and spending time with her. She imagines that the rocking chair is a bull she can ride. In the winter, her parents play music together and Maisie is as pure as snow.
While the book follows the arc of the seasons, this picture book is less about seasons or a firm storyline and more about one little girl growing up beloved by her parents who come from different backgrounds and are of different races. The book highlights both the ways her parents are different from one another and the ways that they are the same. Love and food are very much the same while skills and languages are different. It’s a rich and personal look at a family.
The illustrations by Loring-Fisher are done in mixed media and have a feeling of collage combined with the softness of watercolors. The illustrations show the tales the Maisie’s father tells in all of the seasons, looking together into the sky to see the clouds and stars that paint the stories. From wide landscapes to intimate family scenes, this picture book invites readers to explore.
Warm, diverse and full of love, this picture book tells one little girl’s story. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Lantana Publishing.
All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman (9780525579649)
A diverse group of students start a new school year in their bright and busy classroom. The urban school has students from around the world, all of them safe in school and welcome to be there. All of the students wear different kinds of clothes to school and bring different food in their lunches. They play together, learn from one another, and celebrate their various cultures. When the children head home, they all make their way to bed thinking of the new friends they have made that day.
Told in rhymes, the text uses “All are welcome here” as its chorus. The focus here is on how different the children are from one another and also how inclusive their school is, making children of all backgrounds, faiths, cultures, and abilities welcome in the same room. The bright illustrations add to the celebration of diversity with children in dark glasses or in wheelchairs and wearing different sorts of headwear that reflect their faith. Throughout, there are big smiles and a lively energy that feel like an active class on the page.
A great book to start the school year and promote acceptance and diversity. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Fresh Ink edited by Lamar Giles (9781524766283)
Explore diversity in a variety of ways in this anthology for teens that offers fresh takes on life. The anthology includes work from thirteen young adult authors. Short stories, a one-act play and a graphic story are all part of the collection. The authors are some of the best writers at work today as you can see from the cover image above. The collection is rich in diversity and voices, featuring stories about race, coming out, death, spray paint and making your mark on the world.
Giles, who is cofounder of We Need Diverse Books, has edited this collection very well. The group of contributors is astounding, each new story shining with their skill and voice. The quality is exceptional and the range of stories leads you from one type of diversity to another, exploring finding your way in a world that stands against you.
Strong writing, great stories and a call to action will make this collection a popular one. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from copy provided by Random House Children’s Books.
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael Lopez (9780399246531)
An award-winning author is joined by an award-winning illustrator for this picture book that celebrates diversity and acceptance. There are many ways for children to feel different from others, particularly when starting a new school. Perhaps it’s their skin, their hair, their clothes or the language they speak. There are school activities that will show them they live differently than other children, like not traveling during summer vacation. Lunches brought from home can be too different for other children to accept. Children can feel excluded from games on the playground too. So what is the answer? Finding your own voice, your own courage and telling your stories to the others without apology.
As always, Woodson prose impresses with its accessibility and depth. She manages to keep to a picture book length but speak about differences and resilience in a way that encourages children to be proud of where they come from and their life experience. Beautifully, children of all backgrounds will find themselves on these pages too, because everyone in different in some way. Woodson manages to be inclusive without minimizing the impact of racial differences, which is quite a feat!
The illustrations by Lopez are exceptional. They glow on the page, showing children of diverse backgrounds illuminated by the light of the world. The illustrations move from realism to more imaginative and playful moments as children grow into self-acceptance right in front of the reader.
A marvelous pick to speak about diversity and acceptance with children. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.
Someone New by Anne Sibley O’Brien (9781580898317)
There are three new children in classes. Maria is from Guatemala and can’t speak English, so she stays quiet all the time. Jin is from Korea, he loves stories but can’t read or write enough English yet to share. Fatima is from Somalia; she dresses differently than the others in the class. The children in the different classes want to reach out, but they don’t know how. As time goes by, the children learn more English. Soon Maria is playing soccer with everyone. Jin starts to share his stories and also how to write in Korean. Fatimah connects through pictures she draws and shares. Maybe making friends isn’t so hard?
The author focuses on what all children whether new and learning or already comfortable in the class can do to bridge the divide when someone who is learning English joins them. The book follows her previous one, I’m New Here. With very simple text, the book is accessible for learning readers and offers clear ways to make connections with one another that don’t involve words. The illustrations show the isolation of the new children and the dismay of the others at not being able to be as welcoming as they’d like to be. Even in the early illustrations though, the distance is bridgeable and children will be able to see clearly the hope depicted.
An important book for all communities that celebrates immigrants entering communities and schools. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Charlesbridge.
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson (9780399252525)
Released August 28, 2018.
In her first middle-grade novel since her award-winning Brown Girl Dreaming, Woodson speaks to the greatest challenges of our society through the viewpoints of six children. When their teacher creates a special time every Friday for six of her students to spend time together with no expectations and no adults, a safe space is created. It’s a space where Esteban can share that his father has been picked up and taken for deportation. It’s a space where Amari can talk about racial profiling with his best friend who happens to be white. Haley records their conversations, capturing them all so that they can remember this time. But she too has a secret to share, if she is brave enough to tell the truth.
Woodson writes with such ease, digging deeply into the emotional state of these young people as they share their stories with one another. She shows the United States through their eyes. It’s a place of opportunity worth risking your life and family to come to, but it’s also a place of immense danger. People are deported, families separated, and others are shot. Woodson captures all of this through the eyes of Haley, a girl who lives with her own secret. Through Haley, the story of children visiting parents in prison and eventually reunited with them is told in all of its mixed emotions.
Each of the children in the story is so very different that they can never be confused with one another. Woodson gives each a distinct voice and set of opinions, shares their stories. They are presented as full human beings with histories, families and struggles uniquely their own. Woodson also offers here a voice for children who are not great at school for one reason or another.
A book that celebrates diversity and asks deep questions about our modern society, this is a novel that so many children will see themselves reflected in and others will learn something from. Appropriate for ages 8-11.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Nancy Paulsen Books.
Saffron Ice Cream by Rashin (9781338150520)
Rashin tells a story from her own childhood when she traveled for the first time to an American beach. She remembers beach trips when her family used to live in Iran. They took a car, stopping for a picnic lunch along the way. In America, the subway will take them to Coney Island. In Iran, there were strict beach rules. Women and girls swam separately from the men and boys. Her favorite memory was a day when little boys peeped into the women’s section and the ensuing chaos. In America, even the ice cream flavors are different, but Rashin may have discovered a new favorite with the help of another little girl. At Coney Island, the rules at the beach are less clear, but a new friend is quickly made.
The interplay between the two cultures is lovingly depicted, neither better or worse, just very different from one another. There are universal joys like cold ice cream, sand and waves. At the same time, the two beaches and cultures are shown with their own personality and uniqueness. The illustrations add to the sense of joy with their bright colors and smiling people. While the focus is not on religion, it is an inherent part of the illustrations and the story.
A grand example of why diverse books are so important, this book tells the author’s own story. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.