This alphabet book is a celebration of diversity and the immigrants who come to America. The book is a series of double-page illustrations that include words that match each of the letters. For example, A is ancestors, abuelita, African dance, ambition, art and aspire. F contains flags, food trucks, fish & chips, falafel, frankfurters, families, friends, freedom, a father with a fez, fields and flea markets. The book is joyful and moves effortlessly between cultures, often showing the connections between them and also the unique elements they have brought to our country.
The illustrations are paintings that appear to include collage elements as well. They use a variety of fonts to share the various words for each letter, allowing the words and the images to swirl together into a beautiful mix. So much food is celebrated here that your mouth will be watering by the end for samosas, sushi, spices and more on just one page!
Joyous and inclusive, this is a beautiful alphabet book celebrating the best of America. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Henry Holt & Co.
Watercress by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Jason Chin (9780823446247)
Riding in their old car along a rural Ohio road, a young girl’s parents come to a stop when her mother spots something growing in the ditch. It’s watercress, so the entire family gets out and starts to harvest it into a paper bag. The girl finds it embarrassing to be in the ditch gathering free food, while her parents are remembering their time in China. The water in the ditch is cold and muddy, the watercress has snails among its roots. The girl finds herself partially hoping that the bottom of the paper bag falls through and this can just be over. That night, the family has the watercress for dinner, but the girl refuses to even try it. She wants food from the grocery store, not free food from a ditch that reminds her of furniture taken from the side of the road and hand-me-down clothes. Then her mother shares a story from China about her younger brother who died from not having enough to eat. The girl is inspired by her family’s history and ashamed of how she has been acting, so she tastes the watercress for the first time, a taste that builds new memories.
The writing in this picture book is exceptional. With delicate poetic words, Wang creates layers in her story. She weaves both the experience of shame for the young girl and the melancholy memories of China for her parents together into a story of generations in a Chinese-American family. From the previously unshared stories of her parents time in China to learning not to be ashamed of the way they live, this book will resonate for so many children.
Caldecott Honor winner, Chin pulls together images of China and Ohio in this book. By putting tall cornstalks against tall bamboo, the images are gateways to one another. The use of yellow to light the pages, works both in sunshine in Ohio and the sepia of memory in China. It is all so beautifully done, so well designed.
One of the best picture books of the year, this book reaches across generations and finds hope. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
I Dream of Popo by Livia Blackburne, illustrated by Julia Kuo (9781250249319)
A little girl grows up seeing her beloved Popo, her grandmother, often in Taiwan. They spend time together cuddling, eating and going to the park. Then the girl’s family decide to move to San Diego, far away from Taiwan. The girl goes to school in America with children of all colors. She doesn’t speak English yet, but she is learning. She calls her grandmother regularly. When they return to Taiwan for a visit, it feels different and she can’t communicate in Chinese as well as she used to. Her Popo’s house seems smaller though it smells just the same and her dumplings taste the same too. When her grandmother gets sick, the girl wishes she lived closer, but a dream is just the right thing to being them together after all.
This #ownvoices picture book is based on the author’s childhood, moving from Taipei to Albuquerque. It shows how a long-distance connection between a grandparent and grandchild is possible, keeping memories fresh and new experiences shared with one another. The book is filled with elements of Taiwan, such as New Year’s celebrations, dumplings and other food. Smells of Taiwan are mentioned regularly, wafting through experiences and dreams.
Kuo’s art is bold and beautiful. She allows the little girl to age through the course of the story, toddling in the park then heading to school, becoming less round and more lean as the pages turn. Popo also ages, the lines on her face more pronounced and her hair changing from black to gray. It is subtle and beautifully done.
A gentle story of immigration and continued connection to those left behind. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Roaring Brook Press.
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.