Finding Community at the 2017 Kweli Conference in NYC

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This Cincinnati girl hopped on a plane and became a New Yorker for a few days!

On April 8th, I woke up bright and early and took the train to downtown Manhattan for the Kweli: Color of Children’s Literature Conference. As I walked down the massive hallway of The New York Times building and rounded the corner, I saw conference organizer, Laura Pegram’s smiling face and I knew I was at home. I felt immediately welcome and energized for a day of connecting with authors, illustrators and publishing industry professionals. My friend/debut author Traci Sorell found me right away and gave me a huge hug; it was so great to finally meet her in person!  Continue reading

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

radiantchild

Image Credit: Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), Javaka Steptoe

Radiant Child is a masterful tribute to artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Steptoe channels Basquiat’s energy and love for his city in how he uses found-wood pieces from landmarks all over NYC and paints them in rich colors.

This is an honest and thoughtful picture book. It introduces Basquiat and his art to children and is exactly what we need in children’s literature, especially for children of color. A confident, smiling black boy on the cover is powerful in and of itself.

In Radiant Child, we meet a Haitian/Puerto-Rican boy from 1960s Brooklyn, NY who dreams of becoming an artist. Basquiat is a focused and messy artist and his mother, also a creative person, encourages him to create. His mother leaves home because of her mental health and this leaves him heartbroken…but not broken; he keeps creating and drawing outside of the lines. As he gets older, his drawings become graffiti. He makes sure to stay connected to his mother as best he can; he wants her to see the artist he becomes. His graffiti, under the name “SAMO,” eventually becomes art in galleries and museums. Basquiat’s  talent and drive bring him international fame.

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Image Credit: Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), Javaka Steptoe

Steptoe uses powerful and lyrical text (“Somewhere in Brooklyn, between hearts that thump, double Dutch, and hopscotch and salty mouths that slurp sweet ice, a little boy dreams of being a famous artist”) to tell Basquiat’s story. His art is equally compelling; brightly painted & collaged wood blocks are fun to look at. None of Basquiat’s original art is used in this book; it’s all Steptoe’s original work inspired by the artist. As we learn about Basquiat’s life, style and use of symbolism, we can also study the symbolism that Steptoe tucks into his detailed illustrations. The cover alone (Haitian and Puerto Rican flags prominent, ABC blocks that spell out Basquiat’s name, etc. ) tells Basquiat’s story.

I love that this book celebrates Basquiat’s relationship with his mother and that it’s honest about mental illness; this is important for children, as many may relate to Basquiat’s life. A lengthy Author’s Note gives readers more information about Basquiat (including information about his drug addiction and death) and tells us why and how Steptoe came to create this book.

This vibrant and beautiful book is one of the best of 2016. It will win a Coretta Scott King Award but will it also get a Caldecott? I hope it does; the art is top notch. Nevertheless, I hope many children read Radiant Child because Basquiat’s spirit, creativity and determination to create are inspiring!

 

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Art, Love, African-American, Haitian, Puerto-Rican, Biography, Determination, Dreams, Mental Health, Diversity, Non-Fiction, New York, Discussion
Book Info: Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe, 2016 Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), ISBN: 9780316213882

This is Not a Book

thisisnotapicturebook

Image Credit: Phaidon Press Inc., Jean Jullien

This is one of my favorite board books this year! It’s very cheeky (literally) and imaginative. This Is Not a Book has Jullien’s signature humor and creativity; if you haven’t read Hoot Owl: Master of Disguise yet, please do!

First things first, this is not a book. It is a tool for play and discovery. Open the first page to see a monster ready to eat you, the next page is a laptop for you to use and keep flipping to find a refrigerator full of delicious food and more. I repeat, this is NOT a book! Jullien adds little details to his art that make it fun. Pay attention to expressions, themes, and place. Some of the pages are meant to be moved too; the butterfly can’t flap its wings if you don’t flap the book! I love Jullien’s use of bold black line; his style is very distinct and strong. The format of this board book is very clever; though only a rectangle, this…object…can transform into many different things. 😉

I hope your toddler will enjoy this book! If you’re looking for something different and fun to “read” check this one out. It’s perfect for sparking fun discussions with children because this book is what you make of it.

 

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Storytelling, Imagination, Discussion, Humor, Animals, Play, Pretend-Play
Book Info: This is Not a Book by Jean Jullien, 2016 Phaidon Press Inc., ISBN: 9780714871127

Sarla in the Sky

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Image Credit: Bharat Babies (Mascot Books), Anjali Joshi/Lisa Kurt

In the United States, Amelia Earhart is considered an inspiration and hero. The first African American female pilot, Bessie Coleman, isn’t very well known and until I read this book, I didn’t know about Sarla Thakral, India’s first female pilot. This simple and pretty beginning reader will teach readers of all ages about her and will perhaps inspire them to learn more.

In this story inspired by Sarla Thakral’s life and accomplishments, Sarla dreams of flying like the birds. When she’s a little girl, her best friend Prem reminds her that girls cannot fly but she’s inspired by a caterpillar to make her dreams a reality. As she grows up, she’s persistent despite the discouragement of others. She tells her critics that wings are not just for boys and continues on her path to the sky. Sarla finally gets her pilot’s license at age 21 and becomes India’s first female pilot. Like the caterpillar from her childhood, she grows into a courageous butterfly.

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Image Credit: Bharat Babies (Mascot Books), Anjali Joshi/Lisa Kurt

I enjoyed this story but it would’ve been just as good if not better if written in prose, not verse. There were some rhyming lines that didn’t quite work. That being said, I can see children enjoying this book as a read aloud. Lisa Kurt’s paintings are very pretty and I love the scene where Sarla day-dreams in the tall grass. I also liked discovering little details in her art like the use of a map of India for the butterfly’s wings.

It’s not often we get quality stories, especially in picture book or beginning reader format, that discuss Indian girls and women. This book is also important because it’s about a girl who loves science and mathematics. Sarla in the Sky is a great addition to any collection and I hope it inspires children, especially little Indian girls and boys, to dream big and fly high.

Click here to learn more about Sarla Thakral!

 

Recommended for: 1st-2nd Grade and up
Great for: Aviation, Dreams, Determination, India, History, History Inspired, Girls In STEM, Girl Power, Inner Strength, Diversity, Inspiration, Beginning Reader, Rhyme
Book Info: Sarla in the Sky by Anjali Joshi/Illustrated by Lisa Kurt, 2016 Bharat Babies (Mascot Books), ISBN: 9781631777462

 

What Do You See?

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Image Credit: Home Grown Books, Kyla Ryman/Wangechi Mutu

African contemporary artist Wangechi Mutu’s art hangs in galleries around the world and now little ones can experience her vivid and surreal art through this board book.

What I like about What Do You See? is that it’s a “seek & find” book and an introduction to contemporary art. There are many books that introduce children to art/artists but what stands out about this one is the energy of Mutu’s work and the clean design of the book. Each page has very simple text; a line that suggests what can be found in the art and a question to spark imagination. Giving a child something to find and also encouraging discussion about what they see is important for development.

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Image Credit: Home Grown Books, Kyla Ryman/Wangechi Mutu

Each page highlights one section of Mutu’s piece, Le Noble Savage and the final page shows a more complete piece section of the artwork. Is it a woman? A creature stretching elegantly and powerfully? She mixes ink with collage; warm reds, purples and pinks burst on the pages. Because her art is so detailed, there’s much to discover. The format of the book is portrait instead of landscape, which works well for showcasing her art. Another excellent thing about this book is that a portion of sales go to Every Mother Counts. How great is that! 😀

It’s always a pleasure to see see black female illustrators thrive but it’s quite special to see a black female contemporary artist’s work made into a children’s book. Maybe this book will inspire families to check out Wangechi Mutu’s art in person!

Recommended for: Toddlers to Early Elementary
Great for: Imagination, Art, Contemporary Art, Seek & Find, Discussion, Diversity, Women, African Artists, Inspiration, Early Childhood Development
Book Info: What Do You See? written by Kyla Ryman/Featuring the artwork of Wangechi Mutu, 2016 Home Grown Books, ISBN: 9780997058703

A Piece of Home

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Jeri Watts/Hyewon Yum

Creating a new ordinary.

Not everyone wants to stand out, especially if your family moves to a new country and you suddenly feel different from everyone else. Hee Jun is a self proclaimed “ordinary” Korean boy and his grandmother is a highly respected teacher in Korea…until Hee Jun’s father gets a job in West Virginia and everything changes. Hee Jun’s family goes through a roller coaster of emotions until they find comfort and familiarity in their new lives.

Jeri Watts does a great job of depicting Korean culture and children’s emotions during times of change. This story was inspired by a Korean student who desperately wanted her to understand him and felt out of place in his new home of Virginia. As great as her storytelling is, the book wouldn’t be what it is without Hyewon Yum’s authentic voice coming through in the art. From the first page, I felt like I was back on the side streets surrounding my 초등학교 (elementary school). My school had a 떡볶이 (spicy rice cake) shop across the street just like the high school Hee Jun’s grandmother teaches at. I love how Yum incorporates Korean words and sentences into the illustrations. Her art is evocative and she’s great at characterization and creating story.

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Jeri Watts/Hyewon Yum

I really connected to this book because (as you can probably guess) I used to live in Korea. I graduated from college and almost immediately flew over to start a new life as an English teacher. Similar to Hee Jun, I felt out of control and confused at times. He also reminds me of my students, especially the ones who wanted to get to know me but didn’t have confidence in their ability to communicate with me. I made them feel uncomfortable in their own space, which must’ve been nerve-wracking! The world caters to native English speakers but Native English speaking countries rarely cater to non-native English speakers! >_< Like Hee Jun’s grandmother, immigrants bring richness into the United States that shouldn’t be ignored just because they struggle with English.

The other day I snapped this photo of 무궁화 (Mugungwha/Rose of Sharon) growing near my house. It made me think of my city of 대구 and my friends and students there.
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I hope you enjoy A Piece of Home as much as I did. I think a lot of children will be able to relate to it!

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Community, Immigration, Friendship, Korea, Korean Culture, Inner Strength, Difference, School Life, Diversity, Discussion, Language, Confidence
Book Info: A Piece of Home by Jeri Watts/Illustrated by Hyewon Yum, 2016 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763669713

Have You Seen Elephant?

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Image Credit: Gecko Press USA (Gecko Press Ltd), David Barrow

I finally got my hands on this book, y’all!  I spotted it on Twitter months ago and it’s finally available in the US. *victory*

Do you know how refreshing it is to open a picture book that’s obviously about an interracial family…but doesn’t focus on it? We’re starting to see more books like this (The Airport Book) in children’s literature. Don’t get me wrong; books that focus on race are necessary but it’s also important to have ones that present multiculturalism as norm. The endpapers & first page of the book show a wall of family photographs that tell us a bit about the family’s genealogy.

In Have You Seen Elephant?, a boy is invited to play a thrilling game of hide and seek. Elephant kindly warns him that he’s very good. He’s up for the challenge though and it turns out that Elephant is rather good. My goodness, Elephant is in the most obvious places but no one sees him. 😉 After they finish their game, Turtle asks if they want to play tag…he’s quite speedy.

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Image Credit: Gecko Press USA (Gecko Press Ltd), David Barrow

I like this book very much. Not only is it very sweet, it’s playful, hopeful and kind. They’re all very good friends and care about each other. The text is sparse but it allows the illustrations to speak loudly. Children can fill in the gaps and decide for themselves whether Elephant is really good at hiding or if the boy and his family are very generous. Barrow’s illustrations are heartwarming; he uses lots of warm browns, golds, oranges and reds. There’s a lot of texture in his technique; spirals radiate out from light sources and scratches, splotches and drips are on every page.

I think you’re going to really enjoy this book. I can’t wait to see what’s next from David Barrow!

P.S. Pay attention to the endpapers for laughs. 😀

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Friendship, Animals, Love, Diversity, Multiculturalism, Discussion, Read-Aloud, Humor
Book Info: Have You Seen Elephant? by David Barrow, 2016 Gecko Press USA (Gecko Press Ltd), ISBN: 9781776570089

Apple Pie 4th of July

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Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Janet S. Wong/Margaret Chodos-Irvine

I found this book by happy accident while shopping in one of my local indie bookstores. The cover drew me in and the content impressed me too. Can’t you tell from the cover that the little girl has some sass? Ha!

The Fourth of July is a very straight-forward holiday for some and complicated for others so I couldn’t pass up a book that features diverse perspectives. In Apple Pie 4th of July, a girl doesn’t understand why her family’s Chinese restaurant/corner store HAS to be open on the 4th of July; no one wants Chinese food on the holiday and she’s missing the parade! Her immigrant parents simply don’t get it. But maybe her parents know something (fireworks ARE from China by the way…) and maybe her holiday will turn out fun in the end!

There’s a lot packed into this book. Though she thinks she knows exactly what it means to be American and she underestimates her parents’ understanding of American culture, she learns that their Chinese-ness fits perfectly in. She’s growing up and finding her way. I really enjoyed the writing; I like the way Wong breaks up sentences and spreads them across the pages. The illustrations are beautiful; Chodos-Irvine’s linocuts are dynamic, with strong shapes and lines. She’s also excellent at characterization. Wong and Chodos-Irvine know how to use space effectively to tell a great story.

AHH how refreshing; of course I had to find something a little different for my 4th of July post! 😉

Happy Fourth! Now I’m ready for a slice of apple pie…

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Fourth of July, Holidays, Asian American, Chinese American, Diversity, Immigrants, Perspective, Restaurant Life, Discussion, Community, Chinese Food, Lessons, Celebration
Book Info: Apple Pie 4th of July by Janet S. Wong/Illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine, 2006 Voyager Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), ISBN: 9780152057084

Brown Girl Writer & Dreamer at My Local Library

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Image Credit: Nancy Paulsen Books (Penguin Random), Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline Woodson strode into Cincinnati’s Main Library on June 18th to talk to us about her book Brown Girl Dreaming. Her walk is confident, she wears a nose ring and wore a shirt that said “Black is Beautiful.” She began with a quiet bang by reading from her book Each Kindness and then kept it very real. Not long ago, the Cincinnati Library board unanimously decided not to change their insurance to cover gender confirmation surgery for long time employee, Rachel Dovel. Woodson was honest with us, she said it was difficult for her to be in the space as a gay, out, woman of color who cares about equality. Though she was happy to talk to us, she was also frustrated that the library didn’t support Rachel & equality.

“I stand with Rachel” she said.

I respect and admire her strength in supporting another woman who continues to be strong in the face of opposition.

The next hour was her reading from Brown Girl Dreaming, anecdotes about her two kids and their short attention span, comments about living in Brooklyn, reflections on parenting and her confusion about how to pronounce Chillicothe, Ohio. >_< The mood was comfortable; the crowd wasn’t as big as I hoped it would be but the people in attendance were engaged. I was very happy to see young brown girls in the audience. In the very front row sat a few young white girls who followed along in their copies of Brown Girl Dreaming while Jacqueline read aloud to us (she’d announce what page she was on) and two of the girls had really great questions at the end.

It was a really nice event; I even asked a question about diverse books and her hopes for the future (how could I resist??) and when she signed my book, I got to talk to her a little more. She’s such a cool person!

I wish you the best Jacqueline! Thanks for stopping by Cincinnati, speaking to us and sharing your light.

 

P.S. If you haven’t read Brown Girl Dreaming yet…get on it! 😉

It’s Ramadan, Curious George

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Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hena Khan/Mary O’Keefe

It’s the month of Ramadan, a time for Muslims around the world to pray, reflect, and fast with loved ones. Last night at a gay club in Orlando, Florida, at least fifty people were killed and the shooter seems to be Muslim.  In this time of sadness, this tragedy has already resulted in increased Islamophobia and racism towards Muslims in our country.

I want to take a moment to say that we MUST love and understand each other. Hatred has no place here.

Now we have a new children’s book about Ramadan. It’s Ramadan, Curious George is an important and sweet addition to the Curious George series. We need more books that are mirrors for Muslim children and this is one more to add to your shelf. There’s already a Happy Hanukkah, Curious George and many Christmas books, so why not Ramadan? I’m glad that it exists and I hope it makes it into the hands of Muslim children who need it and any child curious about Ramadan and Islam. Parents, this is how we teach love.

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Image Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hena Khan/Mary O’Keefe

It’s Ramadan, Curious George is a tabbed board book; its sturdy size and format is perfect for little hands to grasp. Each tab highlights a chapter of the story with a small illustration. The story follows Curious George, The Man with the Yellow Hat and their new friend, Kareem. Kareem is going to try fasting for Ramadan for the first time and Curious George is actually…helpful!  😉  He cooks delicious food with Kareem’s family and helps Kareem make it through his tough first day of fasting. The book also discusses the importance of sharing with others; Curious George helps with a food drive at the mosque and even inspires a new tradition! At the end of Ramadan, they happily celebrate Eid together and Curious George is glad to have experienced it all.

Hena Khan (Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns) did another great job with this one. Her informative rhyming text with Mary O’Keefe Young’s sweet illustrations is perfect. This book is a treasure to keep on your shelf not only for Ramadan, but for all year long. Books like this are not only important for children who need them but are also important for fostering respect and understanding of difference at an early age. I hope you’ll enjoy it with your family!

Ramadan Mubarak!

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Friendship, Community, Ramadan, Religion, Relationships, Love, Respect, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, Cultural Relativism, Cultures, Understanding, Discussion, Animals, Read-Aloud
Book Info: It’s Ramadan, Curious George by Hena Khan/Illustrated by Mary O’Keefe Young, 2016 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, ISBN: 9780544652262