Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali (9781534442726)
Zayneb keeps a diary with two types of things in it. There are marvels, something that is extraordinary and wonderful. Then there are oddities, which perplex, confuse or concern. Zayneb has always been someone willing to take on the world, something that gets her in trouble at times. So of course, she is the one willing to confront her racist teacher and ends up suspended and even pulling one of her classmates into trouble along with her. Zayneb ends up leaving for Doha, Qatar, to get an early start to her spring break. On the trip there, she meets Adam. Adam also does a marvels and oddities journal, but he is harboring a deep secret. He has recently been diagnosed with MS, the same disorder that took his mother’s life. Still, he is intrigued with Zayneb just as she is with him. While they are both Muslim, they don’t see life in the same way, though they are both busy putting on fronts for one another and not showing who they truly are.
Ali takes racism towards Muslims on in a very direct way. She shows microaggressions and other forms of aggression very effectively, demonstrating how each and every day as a girl wearing a hijab, Zayneb is subtly and directly attacked and questioned. But Ali doesn’t rest there, she also shows how to combat it, giving Zayneb tons of resilience and plenty of anger. Zayneb is a wonderful character because of the depth of her passion for being an activist and standing up for herself and for others. She is simply a kick-ass character. Adam on the other hand, is quieter and protective of those he loves in a different and gentler way. He too wrestles with questions and concerns, bearing the burden so as not to bother others until he can’t handle it alone any longer. He is a great foil for Zayneb’s character.
The city of Doha is also a character in the book. It comes alive with its markets and museums, public spaces and private homes. There is a beautiful sense of the city, one that none of the characters take for granted. It is not seen as a perfect place. Zayneb still has to confront overt racism there as well.
A romance that is strengthened by a focus on racism and a firm stance on being yourself. Appropriate for ages 13-18.
Reviewed from copy provided by Salaam Reads.
Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Mendez, illustrated by Jaime Kim (9780062839930)
A little girl is always asked where she is from. She tries to answer by saying “I’m from here, from today, same as everyone else,” but they simply insist that she tell them where she is really from. So the girl asks her Abuelo where she is from. He closes his eyes and gives her an unusual but important answer. He tells her of the varied places that her people come from. They come from wide open land in the Pampas, from brown rivers that give food, from high mountains where condors fly. She also comes from ocean waters, from hurricanes where rain makes tiny frogs sing. She comes from people who were enslaved for the color of their skin, from plazas filled with sadness. But most of all, she comes from love and from the dreams and hopes of her ancestors.
I must admit that I expected a book about the damage of asking that question of children of color. This book surprised and delighted me as it offers children being asked the question a positive way to see their ancestry whether it makes sense to others or not. The answer from the Abuelo in the book is pure poetry, taking readers on a journey through parts of the world and carrying self-acceptance along as an important theme. There is a sense of shared strength in all of the images of places that is embodied in that child.
The illustrations are beautifully rendered with deep colors that shine on the page. The varied landscapes carry readers forward into the story, inviting them to cool off on mountaintops and slow down to float on ocean waves. It is a book that celebrates our world, our cultures and our histories.
Powerful and poetic, this is one that belongs in all libraries. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Small World by Ishta Mercurio, illustrated by Jen Corace (9781419734076)
Nanda was born into the circle of her mother’s loving arms. As she grew, her world grew too. It grew to include more circles, branches in trees, blocks, steel, and cogs. Her world got bigger as she traveled to college where she built her own helicopter and then became a pilot. Her world continued to grow as she roared into the atmosphere aboard a space shuttle. She was bigger than she had ever been before when she stood on the moon’s surface and looked at the stars above her and Earth glowing in the sky.
Mercurio’s prose plays with perspective right from the first pages. She also includes shapes and components of engineering into Nanda’s childhood. A girl fascinated with science and engineering becomes an astronaut in this book that offers an inspiring look at a girl who grows up as her world grows around her.
The illustrations play with shapes on every page, from the patterns of trees and their branches to the quilt below plane wings made up of farmland. Even the stars above form circles at the end of the book along with Earth, guiding readers right back to the circle that the book started with.
An inspiring look at a young girl of Indian descent who reaches the stars. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.
A Normal Pig by K-Fai Steele (9780062748577)
Pip is a pig who loves to make art, cook with her family and dream about what she is going to be when she grows up. But then one day, a new kid at school teases her about the lunch she brought saying that it stinks. The new pig also doesn’t like Pip’s art projects either. They even ask if her mother is her babysitter, since they aren’t the same color. Pip is furious when she goes home and she demands that they make her a normal lunch. Instead, they travel as a family into the city to explore a bit. In the city, Pip hears all sorts of different languages being spoken. The pigs are all different colors and patterns. When Pip asks for normal food, she is told that the food isn’t weird at all. Pip feels a lot better when they get home. Her parents offer a normal lunch, but Pip decides to take her same one. At school, she is teased again but this time offers tastes to everyone and they like it!
Steele explores what it means to be different in a sea of pink pigs. She also looks at what being targeted by a bully feels like when you are a small child and how it can shake your confidence in yourself and your family. Pip’s desire to be more normal is something that children will be able to relate to. The look at an urban setting as a place where people with differences are celebrated is done with a clarity that is very welcome.
Steel’s art is crisp and colorful. She has created pigs of all different stripes and patterns as well as colors. Pip is the only polka-dotted pig in her class and her mother is the only black pig in the neighborhood. The strong patterns and clear differences will help young readers understand that everyone is unique and that differences are worth celebrating.
Just right for kids who aren’t normal, this book celebrates diversity. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Hungry Hearts edited by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung Richmond (9781534421851)
Welcome to Hungry Hearts Row, a neighborhood united by good food from many different cultures. Told in thirteen linked stories, this novel explores the power of food to connect, change, grow and even fall in love. There is the story of food that can give you courage and other dishes that can help you get revenge as long as it’s justified. There is the story of a food competition that unites a grandmother and her grandson. There is the quiet girl who knows just what pastry you need just then. There are haunting tales of sacrifice and pain. The stories bridge generations and cultures, they show a neighborhood brimming with new and old connections, and they fill the world with more than a little magic built on shared food.
More than a simple collection of short stories, these short stories are beautifully connected to one another. There are characters who appear across multiple stories long before they have their own tale told. There are restaurants glimpsed over the course of the entire novel, sharing their magic across many tales. Throughout the entire book, it is the neighborhood itself that is always consistent and full of details. Frankly, I’m not sure how this many authors managed to write such a cohesive and yet diverse set of stories. It is extraordinary!
One element of many of the stories is a sense of deep heritage that bridges generations. There are stories about grandparents and parents, about magic shared and taught, about food and the skill to make amazing meals together. Each story has mouthwatering descriptions of different foods, enough to make readers want to try something new and amazing immediately.
A remarkable short story collection about food and magic. Appropriate for ages 13-16.
Reviewed from copy provided by Simon Pulse.
Leila in Saffron by Rukhsanna Guidroz, illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova (9781534425644)
Leila isn’t sure she likes what she sees when she looks in the mirror, but her grandmother tells her how lovely the color saffron looks with her dark eyes. It makes Leila feel better, but she still sees her skinny arms and knobby knees in the mirror. As she joins her extended family for dinner, she realizes that she smiles the same as her aunt. Leila helps her grandmother make the curry. She heads out to the neighbor’s garden to ask for some cilantro. Everyone congratulates Leila on a wonderful dinner. Before Leila leaves that evening, her grandmother shows her a trunk of silk scarves. They are all the colors of the foods they just worked with, and Leila discovers a saffron one that makes her see herself clearly in the mirror.
Guidroz has created a book centered on a warm and loving Pakistani family. Leila’s concerns with her appearance are addressed by the family in a more holistic way, talking about beauty but also focusing on her skills and her talents. They never make her feel less for having concerns, instead surrounding her with options and choices to really feel more fully herself.
The illustrations are filled with oranges, yellows, reds and deep greens. They also have lots of patterns, filling the page with different textiles. Those colors pop against the simple white backgrounds.
Rich and warm, this book is just like a good curry. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Salaam Reads.
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.