Long Time, No Write!

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Been busy, y’all…

Hi everyone,

*blows dust off website*

It’s been a while. Sheesh. I’ve been very, very busy doing some really cool stuff that I’ll share with you RIGHT NOW. 🙂

 

  • I was appointed to the 2020 Randolph Caldecott Committee!! **AHHHHH** Anyone who’s been following my blog a while knows how passionate I am about picture books. This is a dream, y’all. And to be APPOINTED?! I’m SO grateful and EXCITED. Thank you ALSC for seeing my hard work and believing that I can do a great job on this committee. I can’t wait to spend 2019 reading and reflecting on EVERY ELIGIBLE PICTURE BOOK PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES! I’m also looking forward to excellent discussions with my committee members! This will mean I can’t blog about any 2019 book with illustrations next year but I hope to blog about older books.

 

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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 Info: Always Anjali by Sheetal Sheth/Illustrated by Jessica Blank, 2018 Bharat Babies, ISBN: 9781684019687

ALA Annual 2018 in New Orleans!

 

Hi everyone!

Here are some highlights from my trip down to New Orleans for ALA Annual (June 21st- June 26th). This was my first ALA Annual Conference and it was absolutely invigorating. Not only did I get to meet many authors and illustrators, I was able to catch up with friends doing crucial diversity, equity and social justice work in libraries and schools across the country. In many ways, it was a chance to re-charge and get inspiration for the work I do at home in Cincinnati.

 

On the first day, I got up early and waited in line for opening speaker Michelle Obama with my roommates Kazia and Stacy (<3). Though we waited in line for five hours, we had a fun time talking, exploring the massive Morial Convention Center and relaxing. Carla Hayden, our Librarian of Congress, walked by our line and everyone freaked out. It was surreal being in the same room as our Former First Lady AND our Librarian of Congress, two powerful and intelligent Black women. Before Michelle came out to speak, talented young musicians from Trombone Shorty’s foundation came on stage and performed for us and soon after, Trombone Shorty joined them. That was a really special way to welcome us to the city.

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Muhiima’s Quest

Muhiima's Quest Cover

Image Credit: Library and Archives Canada (LAC), Rahma Rodaah/Daria Horb

Muhiima wakes up with a special feeling on her birthday; she has no idea that an adventure is coming her way! Because she’s Muslim, she usually doesn’t celebrate her birthday, but on this day, her family has a surprise for her. Her mother gives her an old map that leads her to family members and friends around town. All of these people tell her positive affirmations, encourage her to continue being a smart, kind and intelligent girl and give her small purple boxes. Her grandmother, while knee deep in the rich earth of her garden, says to her:

“Don’t forget your roots; they are what ground you, nourish you and make you who you are. Your roots contain your history and support you as you grow into the future.”

Muhiima makes her way back home to discover the meaning of the purple boxes; everyone’s small gift makes one beautiful & meaningful gift, just for her! As a Muslim girl, she often wonders why she can’t be like other kids who have fun birthday celebrations. Her family gifts her with a quest to teach her that even though she doesn’t get a birthday party every year, they’re proud of her and are always behind her, rooting for her! What an important message for a young child.

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Image Credit: Library and Archives Canada (LAC), Rahma Rodaah/Daria Horb

 

This is a quiet story of familial love, religion and growing up. Muhiima has the constant support and encouragement of her family; it takes a village to raise a child. I love how central religion is in this book; Muhiima is reminded to always be a faithful servant of God by being a good person (they go hand in hand). This book is also about the every day life of a contemporary Muslim family; Muhiima’s dad owns a bookstore, her aunt has a henna salon, her uncle plays pick-up basketball with friends and she stops at her mosque to visit her Sunday school teacher. There are not enough picture books that celebrate Muslim families and Muslim children. One thing that I would’ve loved to see in this story is more of Muhiima’s thoughts. She receives a lot of knowledge from her elders but other than knowing how sad she is to not have a fancy birthday party, we don’t get to learn more about her. That being said, I think this is an important book and I’m so glad to have it to recommend!

The illustrations of this book are so sweet. Soft pinks, reds, browns and yellows fill the pages. Watercolor is the perfect medium for this story’s art; the colors are bright and full. From the beautiful pink of Muhiima’s bedroom to the deep browns of her grandparents’ backyard garden, color is important to this story. I love the scene where Muhiima visits her stylish Auntie in her henna salon. Her aunt’s dress is stained with henna as she smiles fully, happy to see her niece. The mood of the salon is warm and inviting.

I hope you’ll take a moment to seek out this awesome self published book by Rahma Rodaah and Daria Horb! Here’s to more stories about young Black Muslim girls on our bookshelves and in our homes!

 

Recommended for: All ages!
Great for: Family, Love, Religion, Islam, Community, Relationships, Celebration, Black Girl Magic, Discussion, Self Published, Diverse Books, Cultural Diversity
Book Info: Muhiima’s Quest by Rahma Rodaah/Illustrations by Daria Horb, 2017 Library and Archives Canada (LAC)/Rahmarodaah.com, ISBN: 9780995922907/9780995922921

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

Children’s Diverse Books Matter!

Y’all!!!!  🙂

On Saturday October 15th, in Cincinnati we had the Books by the Banks festival and…I was on a panel!

Cincinnati librarian Sam Bloom invited me (thanks again, Sam!) to join him and authors Greg Leitich Smith & Zetta Elliott on a panel about the state of diverse children’s books. Education Librarian Edith Campbell was in the audience.

On the morning of the festival, we squeezed next to each other at a small table in a small room…but the feeling was warm and inviting. There were about twenty people in attendance and Sam began the panel by asking us about the newly released infographic about diverse books. The white child in the infographic has lots of mirrors and sees himself in every type of role; even a rabbit sees itself more than the children of color and the Native child. Though Sam had a few questions to guide us, the panel was mostly open discussion with a few audience members chiming in.

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Click to view in more detail!

Zetta had really important points about how the system needs to be changed. She said we need more people of color in publishing who will speak up and we need more people of color engaging in community based publishing/self-publishing! I talked about the importance of #ownvoices. We have more books with children of color on the covers but still not enough authors of color. Sam asked me about my interactions with white customers in my bookstore; how often do they turn down diverse books if they’re offered to them? I said that very often diverse books don’t make it to the check out. Greg Lietich Smith said that he feels that publishing is too centered in expensive New York City and people from upper classes (usually white) are the ones who can afford to be there and take unpaid publishing internships.  Zetta and Greg both believe we need more regional publishing. Zetta also touched on the need for reparations in the kid lit community. Read more about that here. We also talked about the makeup of kid lit awards committees.

At the end of the panel, we agreed that it went by much too quickly! It’s always fun talking about diverse books and this was the first time I’ve talked about them in a professional setting. I even gave a shout out to one of my favorite black girl books, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters!  ❤

Good times. Can’t wait to do it again.