Tag Archives: Diversity

Friday Five: Families

I’ve talked before about how different our family structure looks when you take in all the grandparents. Even though divorce seems to be fairly common it isn’t the majority of families and I think this generation of children is seeing it in the grandparent generation more than, say, my generation did. That being said, there are all kinds of family structures out there when it comes to parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc. Today I’m going to feature five books (plus a bonus book) that reflect different family structures. Be sure to share these with kids who have a “traditional” family structure, too. Even if their home doesn’t look like these, their friends’ homes might and we need to build awareness, empathy, and competency around that for those kids.  In other words, don’t hesitate to read this even if you have a “traditional” family. 

families-families-families1. Families, Families, Families written and illustrated by Suzanne and Max Lang

We got this one out of the library and it was a hit. Instead of using people the book uses animals to reflect all kinds of families- step, adoptive, “traditional”, same sex, single parent, grandparent, lots of kids, only children, etc. Each family is shown in some kind of portrait or snapshot that is framed on a mantel or wall and it’s fun to pay attention to the decor in each house you glimpse. After seeing all the different families the point is made that it’s love that binds families together, not what they look like. As much as I hate the idea that animals can count as diversity, I think it’s handled well here and I know for my animal-loving, people-shy kid this book hit home more than any other. 

 

two-is-enough2. Two is Enough written by Janna Matthies, illustrated by Tuesday Mourning

As you might guess from the cover and title this book features families that have only two people. I actually bought this one for my library and haven’t spent a lot of time with it. As you can see there is racial diversity in the families as well as gender. Some are single dads and some are single moms. What I don’t remember is if this book implies that any of the single parent families are single because of divorce. Either way I think a child living with one parent at a time would also find themselves in the pages of this book. 

 

 

one-family3. One Family written by George Shannon, illustrated by Blanca Gomez

This is an interesting take on the counting concept book. Instead of a simple 1-2-3 counting pattern One Family counts parts of a whole. Everything is always one family, but then it counts up to ten looking at things like cookies shared in a family. While kindergarten and younger children will enjoy the predictability of the pattern of the text, older kids (up into first grade) will enjoy the peek into such a range of families. My daughter enjoyed finding all the animals and pets in the pictures, but she also really enjoyed “checking” the math and counting the objects shown in the illustrations. I find the sharp digital illustrations really modern and appealing, too. 

 

 

stella4. Stella Brings the Family written by Miriam B. Schiffer, illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown

Stella’s first grade class is going to have a Mother’s Day celebration, but Stella doesn’t have a mother in the traditional sense. She thinks a lot about what she’s going to do about the party. In the end she brings all the people who “mother” her and it ends up being the whole family. I particularly like the message that we needn’t be so rigid in how we view parental roles. A mother is someone specific, but mothering people can be done by many people in our families. And I think Stella’s dilemma will familiar to single parent families and families where it isn’t a mother or father who cares for the children (like a grandparent or aunt/uncle family). Be sure to notice the little boy thinking of his two moms on one of the last pages when the kids take home an invitation to a Father’s Day celebration.

 

home-at-last5. Home At Last written by Vera B. Williams, illustrated by Chris Raschka

This one just released a week or so ago and I haven’t had a chance to read it, but it’s about a little boy adopted by two dads. It unabashedly shows the little boy crawling into bed with them when he’s scared at night, just like any child with a mom and a dad would. The little boy, Lester, is scared at night and needs help feeling secure. Despite all his dads’ efforts to make him comfortable and secure it’s the dog who solves the problem. Nighttime uncertainty and fear are not reserved for adopted children and while the story may have special significance for two-dad families and adoptive families, I think plenty of kids will know how Lester feels. 

 

 

After creating this list I realized I have two books with two dads and no books with two moms. (I was going for adoption with Home At Last.) in-our-mothers-houseNecessary Bonus Book: In Our Mothers’ House written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco.

I have not read this one, but I do know Polacco’s work. She often writes books that are a bit longer and deeper than picture books traditionally are. That being said I don’t think there is any reason you can’t share this will young children. I think it really means that it will have appeal much further up the age range. Here the children of two moms are challenged by a lack of acceptance in their neighborhood. They need to rely on the love their family has built to help them feel confident and secure. As I haven’t read it, I can’t be sure, but knowing Polacco I suspect this is a lot more about the love and fun in the house than it is about the negative attitudes of the neighbors.

 

misadventures-of-the-family-fletcherBonus chapter book: If you’re looking for a read aloud that is funny and sweet be sure to check out The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher. It features two dads and their adopted kids. It follows them through all kinds of hilarious and eye-opening situations during the course of a school year. It’s what you would expect from a funny family book, but just happens to feature a two-dad family. It’s well worth reading.  

The Diverse Bookshelf: The Parakeet Named Dreidel by Isaac Bashevis Singer

Parakeet Named DreidelThe Parakeet Named Dreidel written by Isaac Bashevis Singer, illustrated by Suzanne Raphael Berkson

Today the book I’m sharing features religious diversity. While we have a lot of holiday picture books that line up with the religious and cultural celebrations that are specific to our family, but I also love to expose Cam to other holidays and celebrations. Since we aren’t about to crash Friday prayer or someone’s shabbat, I try to share books with Cam that give her a peek inside other families traditions. 

We are bird people in our house with all the chickens and ducks and the conures, so I thought this one sounded interesting. The author is very well known for his works for adults, too. That can be hit or miss with children’s book because, contrary to popular belief, writing good books for children is hard. I was delighted by the story, though.

One cold, snowy Hanukkah night a small parakeet turns up at David’s window. The family lets the bird in and spends a few weeks trying to locate the owner. The only real clue is a Yiddish phrase the bird can say (“Go to sleep, Zelda”). When no one comes forward the family keeps the bird and enjoys his company for nine years. Then, when David is off at a Hanukkah party in college, he tells the story of how they found Dreidel, the parakeet. A girl at the party, a girl David has been taking out on dates, excitedly tells him that she is the Zelda the bird knew. The next day the two families meet and Zelda’s family is overjoyed to see their beloved pet again. Except, with two attached families, who will keep the bird?

The story is set on a backdrop of Hanukkah, but it isn’t a particularly religious story. It’s really a book about how attached we can become to our pets and the joy they bring to our lives. This is a perfect theme for our family with all our animals. I like that it gives a glimpse into Hanukkah, but I wouldn’t use it as my only book about Hanukkah to teach Cam about the holiday and its significance to Jews. Still, we enjoyed the story. 

I had a couple complaints about the story. There are a few places where the text is a little overly descriptive or includes details that seem important to adults, but will just annoy kids. I think this may be a function of the story being written by an adult author or the book was originally a short story forced into picture book format. Also, it’s unlikely that the bird described would be a parakeet. They don’t live particularly long and rarely learn to speak understandable words. Its more likely that this would be a conure.

All told, I’ll be adding this to our collection and repertoire of holiday books. It was such a heartwarming story.

Diversity Swap: Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang

Ten, Nine, EightTen, Nine, Eight written and illustrated by Molly Bang

From Goodreads: Bedtime! A happy game to lure the most persistent sleep evader. A warm and reassuring countdown to the land of dreams.

I am not sure how many parents are aware of this title. I don’t tend to see it out on baby shelves at large commercial bookstores and it hasn’t come across my Amazon account so I’m guessing it isn’t as well known. This was apparently one of my favorite books as a child, but I have little recollection of loving it even though I do remember the book. 

It’s just a simple countdown book. As a little girl gets ready for bed you are taken around her room seeing different important objects and parts of the room, much like the rabbit in Goodnight Moon. Slowly she moves toward her father who picks her up and snuggles her before putting her in her crib. The colors are bright and inviting. It’s a quick story to read just before bed, but has a lot to look at if you want to extend the reading. 

If you read and enjoy Goodnight Moon try this one out too. It’s in the same vein of quiet bedtime book, but features a black father and daughter pair. 

The Diverse Bookshelf: Gordon Parks by Carole Boston Weatherford

Gordon ParksGordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jamey Christoph

From Goodreads: His white teacher tells her all-black class, You’ll all wind up porters and waiters. What did she know? Gordon Parks is most famous for being the first black director in Hollywood. But before he made movies and wrote books, he was a poor African American looking for work. When he bought a camera, his life changed forever. He taught himself how to take pictures and before long, people noticed. His success as a fashion photographer landed him a job working for the government. In Washington DC, Gordon went looking for a subject, but what he found was segregation. He and others were treated differently because of the color of their skin. Gordon wanted to take a stand against the racism he observed. With his camera in hand, he found a way.

Don’t let the heavy-sounding description deter you from this fantastic little book. It does tackle some very difficult issues, but it does it in such an accessible way for young audiences. Carole Boston Weatherford tends to write picture books in verse, collections of poems that tell a story, and they are usually fairly lengthy books. I was surprised to discover that Gordon Parks was fairly sparse in terms of text. Each page has just a few short sentences with fairly easy vocabulary.

Of course, the simplicity of the text belies the difficulty of subject. Parks grew up and lived in a segregated country, and he was not living in the South. When he became a photographer he decided to document the racism and inequality he saw between the black and white communities. It’s here in the story that the book really shines. So much is said with so little and it leaves us, as parents and educators, with the perfect entree into asking open ended questions about these hard topics. Topics like racism and inequality that seem to be so front and center lately. Things that kids notice, but we (and by we I mean white parents), often try very hard not to look to directly at. 

The art in the book is wonderful. It has that vintage and modern feel to it, but instead of featuring buildings and classy inanimate objects, the focus of each illustration is the people. They fill the frame, they draw the eye. And that ties in so beautifully with the story itself. One about seeing blacks as human. Seeing working class people as human. The color palette is limited which makes it feel sophisticated, but also warm, inviting, and cozy. 

If you’re looking for a book about an interesting Renaissance man, this is it. If you’re looking for a book to help you start difficult conversations, this is it. Or just read the book and let your child make inferences. The message is there. 

The Diverse Bookshelf: City Shapes by Diana Murray

City ShapesCity Shapes written by Diana Murray, illustrated by Bryan Collier

From Goodreads: From shimmering skyscrapers to fluttering kites to twinkling stars high in the sky, everyday scenes become extraordinary as a young girl walks through her neighborhood noticing exciting new shapes at every turn. Far more than a simple concept book, City Shapes is an explosion of life. Diana Murray’s richly crafted yet playful verse encourages readers to discover shapes in the most surprising places, and Bryan Collier’s dynamic collages add even more layers to each scene in this ode to city living.

I know concept books can seem babyish, but this book is anything but. Maybe it’s the city setting that makes it feel more hip and sophisticated. The shapes the story presents are fairly basic, but there is a lot to look at on the pages and I think it can inspire your child to begin looking around them.

Murray has used rhymed couplets to great effect here. They give the book some music and really keep you turning the pages. The shapes shared in the book are pretty basic, but I think how they are being used focuses more on visual literacy than learning the names of shapes. 

I don’t know how Collier does it, but he illustrates the most amazing people. They always seem to glow on the page and your eye is drawn right to them. If you want to have an art discussion with your child, point out that Colliers has used a collage style for these illustrations. Ask them how they think the collage style lends itself to this particular story. 

I’m going to be using this book in a storytime this fall in my library. As I said above, concept books (books about a concept like shapes or numbers or letters instead of a story with a plot or straight nonfiction) can seem aimed at babies, but my purpose in sharing this book with older children to is encourage them to begin looking around them. If they can find shapes in the world around them, they can break art down into its composite pieces and analyze it which is a skill I’m going to be working on with my preschoolers. Looking around is exactly what the little girl in City Shapes is doing. 

After reading this I highly recommend you take a walk with your child and see what shapes you can find in your own house or neighborhood. 

Diversity Swap: Wild Berries by Julie Flett

Starting this fall I am going to be regularly posting primarily on books. This is the start of one of three book series I am going to be running that gives you diverse book selections to try in lieu or in tandem with classics. While I am passionate about getting diverse books, which are often new books, into kid’s hands I am not advocating that we remove the classics from their hands before placing the diverse ones there. This series is intended to give you more books, not fewer to read. For similar recommendations be sure to check out We Need Diverse Books Summer Reading Series. They are doing the same thing, but feature a wide age range for their books. Book posts will appear (usually) on Fridays. 

This first book I am presenting is pretty close to the classic, but many of them won’t be exactly analogous. Most of us know Little Sal and her mother from Robert McCloskey’s Blueberries for Sal. If you are unfamiliar, go check it out. The art is lovely and the story is both funny and nostalgic. This classic has been around for ages, and with good reason. Children and parents alike love the story. 

Blueberries for SalFor another book about a grandmother and child going out to pick blueberries and enjoy nature, try Julie Flett’s Wild Berries. Both stories take place in similar locations. Flett’s book will work well for younger audiences as well as older ones (Blueberries for Sal is rather long, although engaging). I think this book, like Sal is very timeless. In Sal, it’s clear it’s the 40s or 50s, but really there is no reason this exact story couldn’t be happening today. The same is true in BerriesWild Berries also features the Cree dialect which can open up discussions about the number and variety of Native Nations that live across the US.  

Wild Berries

Flett’s art is incredibly beautiful, be sure to check out her other books (I particularly like We All Count, a counting book in Cree and English).

 

Books, Books, and More Books

So, you may have noticed that I’ve really been posting mostly about books lately. There are several reasons for that, the biggest being that this past year I was officially working in a library and my world has been books. I read a lot. I read to see if books are right for our library. I read to see if I can use them in lessons. I read them to see if they need to weeded out of our collection. I read them for fun. I read them to see if Cam would like them. I read them to Cam. 

Please don’t get the impression that libraries and librarians are all about books. I am not actually paid to read books. I am paid to shelve them, process them, and teach kids that come to visit me in the library. A big part of that teaching has nothing to do with pleasure reading. Nothing. At. All. I do work hard to make sure my students like to read, can read, and come in to read for pleasure. While pleasure reading is incredibly important, I also realize that it isn’t for everyone. Just like baseball isn’t something everyone wants to do. However, reading for information, reading to learn, reading to inform is of the utmost importance. So is evaluating what you are reading. Evaluating it critically. Looking at something and deciding if you agree. Deciding if an article is well reasoned and makes sense. Looking at who wrote an article (or book, or whatever) and sussing out their motives and evaluating those. Basically I teach critical thinking. That is what a librarian, especially a school librarian, is really there for. That is why you don’t see me writing a lot about literacy activities to force your child into interacting more with a book. I do write a lot about why or how a book might work for a family or child. That is just how I think about books. 

One thing I have become incredibly passionate about, and I’ve said this before, is getting more diverse books onto our library shelves. Personal libraries and institutional ones. And that’s where this passion and this blog have begun to collide lately. In light of all the recent crappy events in the world I think it’s more important than ever that we get positive representations of diversity (i.e. non-white) into our children’s hands, minds, and hearts. Books are an excellent, non threatening way to do that.

I am still trying to find how I want to focus my attention here and honestly that is a constantly moving target. I still plan on sharing what’s going on on the family farm and the things I am doing with Cam, but right now I want a space where I can promote books, particularly good diverse ones, with parents. I have a library blog that you can check out which is nearly all reviews, but I focus there on talking about books and how they can work for a library collection and that is very different beast from the home environment. 

The single best things you can do to make your child love reading are:

  1. Read to them
  2. Don’t make it a chore: No reading logs, no timers, no page number requirements.
  3. Let them choose what they read to themselves and what you read to them. Yes, even if that means a book you hate like Captain Underpants.
  4. Don’t tie it with punishment or reward: Don’t withhold reading for not doing chores, don’t make it a punishment for not doing chores, and don’t make them interact with a book they don’t like. If they have to read something particular for school I highly recommend you read it out loud to them. And PLEASE talk to them about why they are not enjoying it. Boring is not a response. Show them how to be more specific and articulate in their criticism. Encourage them to share those thoughts with their teacher. And be honest about your opinon about the book. I tell Cam all the time if I don’t like books and why (usually because they are racist).
  5. Read to them some more
  6. Did I say, read to them? Yes? Well, do it again. 
  7. Make sure they see YOU reading for pleasure. I know MANY parents that proudly say they’ve read all of two books in a year (or fewer) and yet fight with their children to make them read 30 minutes a day. Take a look at your relationship with reading. Seeing you read is going to be a much more effective motivator. And if you don’t hold yourself to a high reading standard, why hold your kids to it? If you don’t value it enough to do it 30 minutes a day, why would they? This also applies to #3. Don’t make them read high brow literature when all you read are New York Times bestsellers. By and large those are not high literature. That’s fine! We all read books to escape and have fun. Much like we all enjoy a candy bar or bag of potato chips from time to time. Just know that kids and their reading habits can and will look like yours. Just like your eating habits. 
  8. Know that reading doesn’t just happen in chapter books. Picture books are reading. Comics are reading. Text messages are reading. You read all day everyday, you just don’t think about it. You read emails, tweets, articles online, Facebook. That’s all reading. Don’t hold your child to an impossible standard of only reading the most difficult nonfiction text they can. And make sure they know reading comes in a lot of forms and formats including audiobooks. Even if they aren’t your preferences, they might be for your child. 
  9. Make sure they are seeing other people in books as well as seeing themselves. This can be difficult, but keep looking. 
  10. And just for good measure, read to them. Even when they seem way too old. 

The Diverse Bookshelf: Furqan’s First Flat Top

Furqan's First Flat TopFurqan’s First Flat Top written and illustrated by Robert Liu-Trujillo

Furquan has always worn his hair short and curly, but one day he decides that he wants to try a new style. He asks his dad to take him to get a flat top. The two venture down to the barbershop where Furqan frets over what the new hairstyle will look like and if it will be too flat. Dad calmly reassures him until Furqan can see the new ‘do and realizes how fresh it looks. 

Why is personal hygiene so hard for children? In our house we battle over toothbrushing, showering/bathing, hair brushing, and changing clothes. Battle may be too strong a word, but Cam hates anything that resembles self-care and I don’t think she’s alone in this aversion. 

I originally bought this book for my library where I’m trying very hard to get a lot more diverse literature onto the shelves. It is a a little self-published jewel, funded by a Kickstarter campaign. When the package arrived, beautifully addressed and complete with three stickers of some of the artwork, Cam wouldn’t let the book go. We’ve read it several times since at her request. I’m going to have to buy another copy for work. 

Liu-Turjillo’s watercolor illustrations are as masterful as they are charming. He perfectly captures Furqan’s expressions and body language. Throughout Dad has this gentle, loving expression on his face that perfectly matches his calm reassurance and support. I really think the illustrations are half the appeal here. All the people are so expressive and you know exactly the conversations they’re having just by looking at them. The barbershop is bright and lively and interesting. 

Liu-Trujillo also perfectly captures the weird, illogical anxieties kids have over everyday things, like haircuts. Furqan frets that his hair will be flat like a record or a skateboard or a pancake. Those are things kids would come up with and worry about because they’re flat, even though they don’t resemble hair at all. What I initially thought would be a good book for my library about the worry a child feels about changing their look, turned out to be a great book to help Cam verbalize her nervousness about a first haircut. I think she likes seeing another child struggling with the idea too and may eventually come around. 

One final thing to say, there is a mother mentioned in the text, but she isn’t part of the story. I love seeing and reading books to Cam about involved and loving fathers. This is an excellent example of one such story. 

A worthwhile addition to any bookshelf, whether or not hair brushing is an issue in your family.

Friday Five: Grandparents

With summer here many kids may be over at the grandparents’ house while out of school or the whole family may head off to visit grandparents. Here is a list of five great books about grandparents.

Tea with Grandpa1. Tea with Grandpa written and illustrated by Barney Saltzberg

This is such a darling story about a little girl having a tea party with her grandfather. They pour tea and nibble on cookies together every week at the same time. The text is simple and the illustrations are lovely and gentle. A clever page turn at the end reveals, though, that the two are having tea over Skype. A great story for kids whose grandparents aren’t nearby. 

 

 

 

Sunday Shopping2. Sunday Shopping written by Sally Derby, illustrated by Shadra Strickland

This is the kind of book that I would have loved as a child. Every Sunday night Evie and her grandmother get out the sale papers, some glue and a pair of scissors. Together they go through and cut out things they would love to buy, from a ham for dinner and lunches that week to a special jewelry box. Sunday Shopping is such a lovely story about creativity, storytelling, and a special time spent each week with a grandparent. It isn’t stated whether Evie lives with her grandmother or just visits, but there is a picture of Evie’s mother on the night stand that shows her in uniform. I think a lot kids would love to try out the game after reading this story. 

 

Love as Strong3. Love as Strong as Ginger written by Lenore Look, illustrated by Stephen T. Johnson

Katie loves to eat the delicious food her GninGnin prepares for her. She also loves stories of the crab factory where GninGnin works. One day she is able to join her grandmother, rising early and watching what it is GninGnin does as the crab chong. Katie discovers that the day is long and hard, but that her grandmother continues so that Katie will have a better future. While the book is about the sacrifice the grandmother is willing to make for her granddaughter, it’s also about Katie’s realization of how much her grandmother loves her and how she shows it. 

 

 

The Airport Book4. The Airport Book written and illustrated by Lisa Brown

A family packs up their suitcases and heads for the airport. The text follows them through the various stops and processes that are involved with airports and flying and makes a good introduction for kids headed to the airport for the first time. The trip culminates in a beach vacation with their grandparents. The text is okay in this one, it certainly offers a lot to children curious about airports and flying, but it’s the pictures that make the book shine. There is so much to look at in them and lots of untold stories that you can follow through the book (be sure to keep your eye on Monkey who has an adventure of her own!). A good one for families headed on a plane to visit grandparents. 

 

 

Gooligulch5. My Grandma Live in Gooligulch written and illustrated by Graeme Base

I have loved this book since I was girl. It’s just plain wacky and fun, like most of Graeme Base’s books. The story introduces a particularly eccentric grandmother who lives in a tiny town in Australia and then follows her on an ill-fated trip to the seaside. Grandma has all kinds of animals that come visit her tiny home in Gooligulch and she encounters more on her vacation. There is a lot to look at in the illustrations (again, this is typical of Graeme Base’s books) and makes for a great time poring over. The end leaves the reader with the question, was any of this real or is it wishful thinking on the narrator’s part? It’s also fun to imagine if this was your own grandmother!

The Diverse Bookshelf: Sail Away

Sail AwaySail Away pictures by Ashley Bryan, poems by Langston Hughes

From Goodreads: The great African-American poet Langston Hughes penned poem after poem about the majesty of the sea, and the great African-American artist Ashley Bryan, who’s spent more than half his life on a small island, is as drawn to the sea as much as he draws the sea. Their talents combine in this windswept collection of illustrated poems—from “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” to “Seascape,” from “Sea Calm” to “Sea Charm”— that celebrates all things oceanic.

I’ve said before how much I love Ashley Bryan’s work, so when I saw he had a new book coming out I bought it without even getting from the library to preview it. I was not disappointed. 

The poems are absolutely beautiful and give you a lot to discuss about symbolism, metaphor, and forming a picture in your mind using words. Bryan’s pictures are also intricate and beautiful and do a wonderful job of pulling out important images from the poetry and splashing them across the page. If you love Lois Ehlert’s cut paper then give Bryan a try. 

I highly recommend reading through these once with your child then returning to the ones that really speak to you. Ask your child if they understand what is being said and help them form a picture of the poem in their mind by defining difficult and new words and asking them questions that get them to think deeply about what is being said. You could also pick one to say at night before bed. There’s a beautiful one about April showers that would be perfect for April nights. You could also get out some scissors and colored paper and ask your child to recreate one of the poems with the materials. 

Pair this with Ocean Sings Blue, another collection of poems about the sea or Water Rolls, Water Rises