Children often learn about the world around them through the books they read or the books that are read to them. The books that parents and educators choose to share can have a huge impact on a child’s view of the world and the diverse people in it. By exposing young readers to diverse literature, children learn that not all children have the same experiences that they do, and they learn that others are worthy of our compassion, our friendship, and our support.
“Goodnight Bubbala: A Joyful Parody” by Sheryl Haft and illustrated by Jill Weber is a lovely version of “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown. Jewish kids and adults alike will chuckle at the Yiddish strewn carefully throughout the text as the whole mishpacha (extended family) comes together to celebrate Hannukah. There are dreidels and latkes and tchotchkes, kitty cats, and even a mouse. Perfect for anytime of year, but especially Hanukkah, this sweet take-off even has a Yiddish-English Glossary and a recipe for latkes by Ina Garten. The author says she wrote the story to show we all can share positive universal values like expressing gratitude, giving to charity, and cherishing our loved ones and our elders. (Dial Books for Young Readers)
“Nian: The Chinese New Year Dragon” by Virginia Loh-Hagan and illustrated by Timothy Banks is the story of a hungry dragon and the young girl who, in her dreams, learns that she must defeat the dragon and do it within 15 days. For this dragon, Nian, has been terrorizing her village every spring when he comes out of hiding to eat little boys and girls. After Mei wakes up, she sees that the magical warrior has left his cane by her bed. First, Mei discovers that the dragon dislikes noise, so she has the villagers make lots of noise. But the dragon returns five days later with his ears stuffed with cotton, so the noise won’t bother him. Mei finds another way to drive him away for another five days. Finally, Mei thinks of a way to end the control of the dragon, and when her plan succeeds, the villagers light lanterns and firecrackers and dress in red to celebrate a new year of living without fear of the dragon. And that’s why people spend fifteen days preparing for it. Loh-Hagen explains the legend and the celebration at the end of the story on a page that is appropriately colored red with gold scrollwork on each side. This is a lovely story that deserves a place on the shelf with other legends and folktales. (Sleeping Bear Press)
“Mama Mable’s All-Gal Big Band Jazz Extravaganza!” by Allie Sieg is a fictional account based on real events that depict the all-female bands that emerged during the 1940s when men were fighting overseas. These women not only broke racial barriers, they broke gender barriers, proving that women could create music just as well as men. In rhyming prose and brightly colored artwork, readers can almost hear the music flow around them as the women play. This is one of the first releases from the Make Me A World imprint led by Christopher Myers. He writes, “Once in a blue moon, however, there is an episode in history that I hope will point the way to the future. Such is the case with the subject of (this) book. Annie Sieg’s Mama Mable is an invitation to this place — a riot of music and color, a community of sound and participation, a slice of the past — that has much less to do with yesterday than today.”
“Happy Hair” by Mechal Renee Roe is aimed at preschoolers and primary grade readers. It’s all about a celebration of hair — specifically black hair — that showcases all the wonderful, beautiful styles that those with super curly, abundant black curls can rock. From “FAB ‘FRO” to “BANGIN’ BANTU” (adorable tightly wound mounds) the illustrations match the simple prose, with the same round face sporting different hair styles, different earrings, different skin color, different lip color, and different clothing. Even the layout and text are stylized with all-caps text except for the statement, printed under the simple rhyming text, “FRESH DO, TOO COOL!” that says, in all lower case letters, over and over on each double page spread, “i love being me!” One one side of each double spread is the illustration of the girl with the hairstyle against a solid background with a speech balloon naming the hair style. On the opposite page, against a background of polka dots, is the text. It’s simple, but visually quite appealing. Those of us who can’t get the “bangin’ Bantu” style? Jealous. (Doubleday Books for Young Readers)
“Home in the Woods” by Eliza Wheeler is not a typical diverse book at first glance. But diversity isn’t just about race or religion or ethnicity. It’s also about SES, or socioeconomic status. In this beautifully illustrated and narrated story, a large family loses its father. The family, now consisting of Mum and her eight children, ranging in age from fourteen years to three months, must find a new place to live. Marvel, age six, is the first person narrator. She narrates their plight in simple text. “Dad lives with the angels now, and we need to find a new home.” In soft shades of green, we see the mother and the children walking together down a rural road, a wheelbarrow carrying a washbasin and kitchen items and a small child, other children carrying rolled up mattresses, pillows, and a chair. They find a shack deep in the woods wrapped in tar paper. It’s a wreck, and Marvel says, “It’s hot outside, but the shack looks cold and empty, like I feel inside.” Optimistically, the mother tells the kids, “You never know what treasures we’ll find.” But inside the shack, there isn’t much: old iron bed springs, a wooden table, empty crates, a rusty oven. But there’s a root cellar with a pump and fresh water, and the rich soil will be a perfect spot for a garden. And life goes on, especially with most of the eight children helping with chores, and even in the bitterly cold, dark winter the family finds things to celebrate. This is a touching and tender depiction of simple living and a loving family overcoming adversity. It’s about how a family with no money not only survives during the Depression, but thrives — not financially, but emotionally. And the illustrations are stunning. Some are simple images against a white background, but some are full page and filled with color and beauty. The combination of delicate watercolor with the black ink drawings is much like the story — a combination of stark circumstances and the softness of love and family — working together to make something amazing. (Nancy Paulsen Books)
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover books provided by the publishers for review purposes.