Always Anjali

Always Anjali Cover

Image Credit: Bharat Babies, Sheetal Sheth/Jessica Blank

 

“Be proud of who you are Anjali. To be different is to be marvelous.”

Many children (and adults!) can relate to the frustrations that arise from having a name that’s different and unique. Growing up in the 90s, my name (ALIA) confused the heck out of most people. Everyone insisted on spelling it like the singer AALIYAH did and most people struggled with the pronunciation (AH-lia). Nevertheless, I knew that my name was special, that it suited me, that it had Arabic origins and meant “the highest” and “sublime.” Most importantly, it was the name that my parents gave me, and that made me feel pretty dang special.

So often when we feel different and start to wonder why we “can’t be like everyone else,” it’s because society is telling us that some element of our being is “not normal.” “Fitting-in” has, since the beginning of time, all over the world, been a huge part of human society. Society dictates what is considered “normal” and quite often, when indigenous people and people of color (who very often have names that reflect their cultural background) are in white spaces, any bit of “difference” can lead to unkindness, bullying and racism. That can be very tough on a young child!

Always Anjali 1

Image Credit: Bharat Babies, Sheetal Sheth/Jessica Blank

 

In Always Anjali, Anjali wakes up on her seventh birthday to a shiny new bike. She excitedly heads to a carnival with her best friends Courtney and Mary (take note of their Anglo-names). At the carnival, they stop by a booth to get matching personalized license plates for their bikes. Anjali can’t find her name, though, AND a bully makes fun of her name! This frustrates and maddens her and that night, she declares to her family that she is no longer Anjali! She wants to be called ANGIE instead. Her parents tolerate none of this, of course, and lovingly tell her the meaning of her name. Her name is sanskrit from India and it represents all that is powerful and beautiful about her family and her culture. Late that night, Anjali is inspired and comes up with a beautiful piece of art to share with her friends the next day.

Always Anjali 2

Image Credit: Bharat Babies, Sheetal Sheth/Jessica Blank

 

Sheth doesn’t shy away from topics of race, stereotypes and bullying in this story. At the carnival, class-bully Zachary taunts her by calling her “An-Jelly.” Sheth & Blank take this situation a step further; in the next scene, Zachary’s shadow is against a red background, and as he holds a ketchup bottle to his forehead, angry white letters shout “PEANUT BUTTER AN-JELLY. CAN I GET A PEANUT BUTTER AN-JELLY WITH A DOT ON TOP?!” Zachary, a white male, stirs up a tired, racist stereotype of Indian people (“dot”) by saying these words to her and putting ketchup on his head to mock a bindi & her culture. He intimidates a young Indian American girl into being ashamed of her name. This is a frustrating but important scene because it’s a situation that many indigenous children and children of color can relate to, especially when they occupy predominantly white spaces/spaces not within their communities.

Though this picture book touches on tough topics, there’s also a lot of joy and brightness to balance. I love the cheery, vibrant illustrations in this book. Blank does an excellent job of portraying Anjali’s positive and colorful energy. She also shows us Anjali’s passion and frustration. The digital illustrations have a hazy, soft feel at times and Anjali’s emotions are on full display through her large, expressive eyes & eyebrows.

Always Anjali is a delightful story of confidence, friendship and family. Names are important. We are always a reflection of those who’ve come before us and names tell the world who we are. This book reminds children, especially children with special names & names that reflect their culture, that they have absolutely no need to hide their shine.

 

 

P.S. The book Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal pairs perfectly with Always Anjali!  😉

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Confidence, Family, Peer Pressure, Friendship, Cultural Diversity, Indian American, Self Esteem, Pride, Bullying
Book InfoAlways Anjali by Sheetal Sheth/Illustrated by Jessica Blank, 2018 Bharat Babies, ISBN: 9781684019687

Advertisements

Ghost: Track #1

Ghost

Image Credit: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), Jason Reynolds

Three things I love about this book are:

1) The voice

2) The careful and thorough characterization

3) How Reynolds depicts black male love

Ghost is a character you won’t forget because he’s very honest about everything. He messes up, you feel for him. He does something right, you cheer for him. As he explains, he has “scream inside.” Many people would quickly label Ghost a “bad kid” but what Reynolds does so well is remind readers that behind every person, behind every relationship, there’s a story. Usually the “bad kids” have experienced heavy things and could benefit from real, caring relationships.

Ghost likes sunflower seeds & world records and takes a lot of crap from kids at school. After his dad tries to shoot him and his mom, the harrowing experience leaves him even more shaken up. He learns to run that night (“…running ain’t nothing I ever had to practice. It’s just something I knew how to do.”) and later earns a spot on a track team without even trying. Tough as nails (not really) “Coach” takes Ghost under his wing and they become closer as Ghost learns more about himself. He leaves it all out on the track; pushing himself to be better, in every way. He becomes more disciplined, he finds community in his team, and though he continues to make stupid mistakes, he grows as a young man.

Reynolds does an amazing job of creating voice for this book. Ghost’s AAVE is prominent and used unabashedly, he’s silly and makes interesting connections in his head. I love it; it feels fresh. Reynold’s characters are all very interesting people; he includes little memorable details like…Ghost’s mom hates studying and pretends to study while they watch her favorite love stories. Though this is a slim book, there’s a great amount of character development that’ll keep you interested and excited about the next book in the series.

I love Coach!! He’s the father-figure Ghost needs and deserves in his life. Though he’s kind enough to bail Ghost out of sticky situations, he makes sure to teach him important lessons too. It not just about Ghost’s track potential for him; he recognizes early that Ghost needs guidance and love. He comes from the same rough place as Ghost and is committed to shaping him. This entire book is about connections and relationships but Ghost and Coach’s relationship is what shines the most.

I really enjoyed this book! I’m curious about how children of color are reading/enjoying it too. This is my first book by Jason Reynolds and I can’t wait to read more.

On your mark…set…go!!

P.S. OMG I reviewed a chapter book (it’s been a while)…lol.

Recommended for: 6th Grade and up
Great for: Family, Diversity, Role Models, African American, Sports, Track and Field, Middle School Life, Bullying, Friendship, Determination, Black Boys, Love, Relationships
Book Info: Ghost by Jason Reynolds/Jacket Illustrations by Vanessa Brantley Newton, 2016 Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), ISBN: 9781481450157

Calvin Coconut: Trouble Magnet

CalvinCoconut

Image Credit: Wendy Lamb Books (Random House Children’s Books), Graham Salisbury/Jacqueline Rogers

 

Calvin is a “trouble magnet” because he can’t help but get in sticky situations. This book is very fast-paced and a little all over the place but that’s not a bad thing because the story is so honest, good and funny!

Calvin lives with his mom and little sister Darci in Kailua, Hawaii. Their “famous” dad left them years ago for Vegas but they’re doing just fine. One day, mom tells Calvin and Darci that they’ll soon have a guest from Texas; her name is Stella, she’s fifteen, and is the daughter of one of her friends. She’ll be just like a sister she says. Antics ensue as Calvin finds a pet centipede in the garage, starts his first day of fourth grade, makes a new friend, dodges a bully and barely manages to stay out of trouble.

Salisbury’s writing, characterization, attention to language and cultural details are excellent; he helps the reader feel right at home on the island. From having the kids talk about how much a haole (white person) with blue eyes and blond hair stands out in their community to explaining spam musubi, kimchi and shave ice, he shares his culture. The Calvin Coconut series celebrates how diverse Hawaii is and the honest portrayal of race, difference, and social issues is refreshing.

Jaqueline Roger’s spunky illustrations fit the mood of the story perfectly. Her loose watercolor-sketch style brings the characters to life and she draws expressions so well.

CalvinCoconut2

Image Credit: Wendy Lamb Books (Random House Children’s Books), Graham Salisbury/Jacqueline Rogers

I’m SO ready to hop on a plane and head down to Hawaii!  I just hope I don’t run into someone as silly as Calvin. Be sure to check out this series if you’re looking for something a little different and fun for your kids.

 

Recommended for: 3rd/4th grade and up
Great for: Humor, Friendship, Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Food Culture, Hawaii, School Life, Single Mothers, Bullying, Family
Book Info: Calvin Coconut: Trouble Magnet by Graham Salisbury/Illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers, 2009 Wendy Lamb Books (Random House Children’s Books), ISBN: 9780385737012

Eagle Song

EagleSong

Image Credit: Puffin Books (Penguin Group), Joseph Bruchac/Dan Andreasen

Okay! To close out Native American Heritage Month, my last pick is Eagle Song. Did you that Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) people, especially Mohawk, built New York City? They have a long history of iron working in the city and many Native families moved down to the Big Apple to make a new life. The transition from traditional communities/reservations to the cold, concrete life of the big city can be a hard for Native peoples and in this book, Danny Bigtree experiences this struggle.

Danny has trouble adjusting to his new life in Brooklyn and it doesn’t help that his peers bully him for being Indian and different. He misses his green home of Akwesasne. His dad travels around the country doing iron work, leaving him alone with his mom and his frustrations. His father comes home from Boston and tells him the story of the Peacemaker and this story gives him strength, especially when he tells it to his son’s class; teaching cultural awareness and respect. Danny keeps his strong father’s words of peace with him as he faces his bully, Tyrone and he slowly becomes stronger and more confident in his new home in the city.

Change is never easy and in Eagle Song, Danny Bigtree has a lot of challenges to overcome. This story isn’t very long but it packs a punch and teaches several lessons. Dan Andraesen’s pencil illustrations bring the story to life, especially the loving scenes between Danny and his parents. I love how Bruchac (Abenaki) weaves in Mohawk words and culture into the story. Eagle Song is a short and easy to read chapter book that touches on a lot of important issues for young children like friendship, loneliness, change, bullying and respect.

For more information about Mohawk Ironworkers, check out these great resources:

To Brooklyn and Back: A Mohawk Journey– Documentary by Reaghan Tarbell

Mohawk Council of Awkesasne- Ratiristakehron: Mohawk Ironworkers

Sky Walking: Raising Steel, A Mohawk Ironworker Keeps Tradition Alive

Booming Out-Mohawk Iron Workers Build New York City– Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) Exhibit

Recommended for: Ages 7-8 and up
Great for: Family, Discussion, Native American Heritage Month, Iroquois, Bullying, Cultural Diversity, We Need Diverse Books
Book Info: Eagle Song by Joseph Bruchac, 1997 Puffin Books (Penguin Group), ISBN: 9780688009144

 

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters

Image Credit: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, John Steptoe

Image Credit: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, John Steptoe

Can we just take a moment to admire how beautiful the cover is? It’s easy to see why this book won a 1988 Caldecott Honor Award. This is one of my absolute favorite books from my childhood because it was one of the first books in which I saw a reflection of myself. Look at that beautiful black girl on the front!

Author/illustrator John Steptoe created this African-Cinderella story after being inspired by African folktales published in a collection called Kaffir Folktales by G.M. Theal in 1895. Theal was a South African historian who also felt it was his duty as a Christian White male to civilize the Africans. So from African roots to colonization to a Black artist living in Brooklyn, these stories traveled and inspired. Steptoe created a book that celebrates Africa. He uses water soluble inks applied by brush and pen and with this technique, his illustrations glow. They are so beautifully vibrant!

In Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, Mufaro has two daughters named Manyara and Nyasha. Manyara is a rotten person and treats her humble and kind sister Nyasha horribly. One day it’s announced that the Great King is looking for a new wife and only the most worthy woman will become his Queen. Manyara’s selfishness catches up with her and Nyasha’s gentle nature and kindness give her all the treasures she deserves. This twist on the western Cinderella tale is very sweet and is full of morals for people of all ages to learn from. If you have a child who loves Cinderella stories, add this one to their collection! You’ll enjoy reading it together.

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Fairytales, Cultural Diversity, Diversity, Morals, History, Discussion
Book Info: Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe, 1987 Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, ISBN: 9780688040451