A Latina little girl has moved to the United States, discovering that she acts like a caterpillar and hides in the back of the class since she can’t speak English. In the summer, she looks for monarch butterflies, but can’t find any even in the community garden. In fall, she finishes her book about monarch butterflies. Able to read better now, she learns that the monarchs need milkweed to survive. Encouraged by her school librarian and inspired by the monarch’s migration, she forms a plan that she presents to her class. It’s hard to stand in front of the class and speak in English, but she really wants to plant a migration station for the monarch butterflies. Soon they are all working together, led by her, to create the station. She feels herself evolving now, into a citizen activist who stands at the front of the crowd.
The parallels between the narrator’s experience and that of the monarch butterfly offers a great framework for this picture book. Those connections are not overplayed, rather they form the reason that this little girl finds solace in studying butterflies. Interspersed throughout the book are excerpts from the nonfiction book on butterflies that she is reading. It’s a clever way to offer information in a separate and clear way.
The illustrations show a girl finding her way in a new country and a new city. The transformation in her body language as she becomes more confident and finds her voice is profound in the illustrations. By the end, she glows on the page alongside her garden.
An inspiring look at how to help butterflies but also how to find your voice. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Khosrou answers his teacher’s writing prompts with stories of his extended Persian family. He and his older sister and mother immigrated to Oklahoma, often living in a motel while staying away from his mother’s abusive new husband, who she marries and divorces multiple times. The other kids in his class don’t believe his stories. They are full of blood and poop, told by a boy who doesn’t speak or think like them who is unpopular and hairy and whose lunch smells bad. Khosrou’s stories though reveal where he came from, a home with birds in the walls and a family of huge wealth. They show how his mother and sister found Christianity, putting their lives at risk in Iran and the resulting loss of his father, his nation and their status. The story moves between life in Oklahoma, full of bullies and violence to the amazing setting of Iran filled with the smell of jasmine, epic grandparents, and color.
Closely tied to Scheherazade’s story telling in One Thousand and One Nights, this novel is remarkable. Nayeri beautifully uses that framework of a series of stories that lead one to the next, hinting at future tales and never stopping as they move forward. He incorporates stories at so many levels, from poop humor that is a welcome relief (pun intended) to stories of his family in Iran to stories of immense bravery to stories of abuse and fear. It’s a world of stories that shows the tangled lives of immigrants, from what they have lost to what they discover as well.
Nayeri tells his own personal story here. It’s tie to his own childhood is clear, giving the stories an honesty that shines through even when the story is fantastic and wild. The book is like a woven Persian tapestry, though I don’t see the single fault that Nayeri has woven into it. It’s complete and marvelous, a rug of jewels that can still be walked on by us all.
A journey of a book that deeply shows the experience of an Iranian immigrant. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Monica and Hannah go to school together and have formed The Homesick Club at their lunch table. Monica is from Bolivia and misses the time she spent with her grandmother feeding the hummingbirds. Hannah is from Israel and she is homesick for the sunshine and desert tortoise that she loved. When their class gets a new teacher, Miss Shelby, she seems to be homesick too for Texas. She talks longingly about the wide-open sky and the stars now that she lives in a big city with skyscrapers. The girls invite Miss Shelby to join their Homesick Club and she does! It’s there that she shares her longing for Hummingbird Cake. Now Monica has just the right inspiration for her presentation to the class.
This picture book explores what it feels like to be a transplant from somewhere else whether it be from elsewhere in the country or from another country entirely. The author cleverly equates these two, leaving no questions about who belongs in our country and why. Rather the focus here is about the emotional toll homesickness takes and how sharing those feelings with someone else can be healing for everyone.
The art in this picture book is light and airy. Using plenty of white space, it is playful and colorful. It sets a nice tone for the book, showing everyone’s differences but also reinforcing the similarities that we all have as well.
Resilience, friendship and cake. What else could you need? Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Groundwood Books.
This wonderful collection of poems and illustrations speak directly to the poets’ cultural heritage. Each poem looks deeply at family and identity, whether it is being asked where you come from or meeting a family member for the first time. Some of the poems show the fear of being African-American in America, the oversimplification of race when filling out forms, the way food can bring people together, and the joy of summer nights. The illustrations paired with each of the poems highlight the wide variety of cultures and heritages in the texts. The result is a rainbow of skin tones and colors, weaving together to create a book that reflects the vastness of our country.
The poems and illustrations in this book are very impressive. As they play through the authors’ memories of their childhoods and the variety of emotions those memories evoke, the reader gets the pleasure of visiting each author’s experience. Poetry always gives a more concentrated look, a deep feel for the author, and that is certainly the case here. The illustrations are wonderful, each self-contained and presented almost as a treasure to discover along this journey.
A great compilation of art and poetry that celebrates diversity and inclusion. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Lee & Low Books.
Tyrus Wong entered the United States by using papers that belonged to another Chinese boy. In 1919, Chinese people entering the U.S. had to prove that they were of high status. Tyrus and his father both traveled under other people’s identities, making him a paper son. He had to memorize details of the other boy’s life and village, knowing that he would be tested to see if his identity was real. When they reached immigration, his father was let through easily but Tyrus was held for weeks until he was finally released after being interrogated about his identity. Tyrus didn’t like school much and his father was often away for work. Tyrus loved art, studying both western and eastern art styles. After he graduated from art school, he worked for Disney Studios, doing painstaking work. Then he heard of a new movie, Bambi, that the studio was working on. He began to create backgrounds for the film and Walt Disney loved them. Fired from Disney after a worker’s strike, Tyrus continued to make art throughout the rest of his life.
Leung tells Wong’s story with a lovely clarity. From his entry into the country through his career, Wong’s tale is not linear but rather a series of opportunities that he seized upon. The beginning of the book shows a family trapped in the red tape of immigration and that harrowing experience blossoms into a book about art and opportunity to express one’s self. That again narrows when Wong finds himself doing grunt work for Disney Studios and once again opportunities appear to move him forward. Throughout there is a sense of grace and resilience when faced with real obstacles.
The art work is clearly done with Wong in mind, with its ethereal backgrounds. The images are powerful, often showing things from a unique perspective from a look at a line of people on a long pier to directly gazing into Wong’s window to looking down at an image painted with a mop. The result is dramatic and beautiful.
A picture book biography that celebrates a lesser-known artist whose work we have all seen. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Schwartz & Wade.
Priya lives with her family in the United States. Her’s is the only house in her neighborhood where an Indian family lives. Priya loves to help her grandmother make rotli for dinner when she gets home. As they make the flatbread, her Babi Ba tells her about India’s spice markets, the architecture, the noises of the traffic, and the monsoon rains. Their house has marigolds strung over the door just like those in India. Priya longs to see India for herself. When winter comes, Babi Ba doesn’t hang marigolds outside any more. Priya has an idea and soon her entire class is helping her make paper marigolds as she tells them about India.
Patel, who is Indian-American, tells a story that focuses on a family’s continued connection to their heritage while living in the United States. Priya is proud of her Indian heritage, loving to hear stories about India and its sounds and sights. Still, there is a sense of distance between her own heritage and the society around her, one that can be bridged by sharing stories. The art in the book is rich will the colors of spices. Deep greens and warm pinks add to the color palette too.
A celebration of Indian heritage and the strength of family. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Jude lives in Syria with her beloved older brother and her parents. As her older brother gets involved in the political battles around them, her parents decide that it is too dangerous for Jude and her pregnant mother to stay in Syria. So Jude and her mother move to Cincinnati to live with Jude’s uncle. America is very different than Syria, much louder and faster, and filled with a language that Jude barely understands. As Jude gets acclimated to living in the United States, she steadily makes new friends along the way. Her love of movies and desire to perform lead her to audition for the school musical. But when the attacks of 9-11 occur, the country that Jude has grown comfortable in changes to be more hostile to Muslims. Jude needs to rediscover what she loves about both Syria and the United States, her two homes.
This novel is written in verse, making for a very readable work. Told in Jude’s voice, the poetry allows readers to see how she feels about leaving Syria, how lost she feels when she comes to Cincinnati, and how she starts to find her way. The importance of English Language Learner classes are emphasized, both in learning the language but also in finding a group of friends. Jude also finds friends in other ways, connecting over shared cultures and shared interests.
Jude’s voice is vital to find in a middle grade novel. My favorite chapters are where Jude gets angry and voices her pain at the injustice of being labeled in a certain way, feared because of her religion, judged because of her headscarf. Those moments are powerful and raw, ringing with truth on the page.
Beautifully written with an amazing Syrian heroine at its center, this book is a great read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Based on the series by Sydney Taylor, this new picture book gives a warm look at a beloved family celebrating Hanukkah. Set in New York City in 1912, both fans and new readers alike will find themselves immersed in this family of five girls, all of a kind. Gertie, the youngest of the five girls, knows about latkes but can’t remember what they taste like since Mama only makes them on Hanukkah. All of the girls help Mama make the meal except for Gertie who is too little to help. The potato peeler is too sharp, the onions make you cry, the shredder is even sharper than the peeler, and the grease in the pan could burn. When Gertie discovers there isn’t a job she can do, she throws a tantrum and is sent to her room. It isn’t until Papa comes home that Gertie gets her own special job, lighting the menorah’s first candle.
I adored this series as a child, loving the depiction of an immigrant family. I’m so pleased to see it return in a new format that brings the stories to a new generation in need of positive immigrant tales. As always, this family is filled with warmth and the picture book just like the series focuses on small moments in a family’s life that speak to their values, their deep love for one another, and their customs. The writing here is deft and focused just right for the picture book format without losing any of that special “All-of-a-Kind” feeling.
Zelinsky’s illustrations carry that same warm feeling. Done in rich colors, the pages are full of the bustling family working together in the kitchen. Even Gertie’s time alone in the bedroom under the bed has warm wood tones. The final pages of the book are all the more rich and warm as the family comes together for the meal with the lit menorah.
Exactly what our world needs right now, a celebration of immigrants and faith. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (9780763690526)
Poet Laureate of the United States, Herrera here writes a poem that is filled with wonder and possibilities. He invites young readers into his own childhood, filled with tadpoles in creeks, sleeping outside, and feeding chickens. Though his childhood also had goodbyes to people when he moved away and fetching water through the forest. Herrera shares moving to the United States and learning English. Filling pages with words and ink, creating poems and songs. The book ends with him speaking on the steps of the Library of Congress and then asks readers to imagine what they could do.
Herrera’s poem is exquisitely crafted for young readers. He takes them on a full journey of his childhood, showing them the beautiful side, the hard work and the difficulties of learning a new language and moving to a new country. It is a powerful work just right for small children about immigration and the impact the immigrant voices have on our country in so many ways.
Castillo’s art is filled with a sense of memory and longing. She lights her pages with bright sunlight and then haunting moonlight appears. There is a sense of being a witness to Herrera’s life in her work, of watching things happen right at his shoulder. It’s a beautiful way to view someone’s life.
Rich, memorable and timely, this picture book is something special. Appropriate for ages 3-5.