Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy

13 Ways of Looking At a Black Boy Cover

Image Credit: Penny Candy Books, Tony Medina & 13 Artists

 

Black boys have bones and blood / And feelings

Black boys have minds that thrive with ideas / Like bees around a hive / Black boys are alive with wonder and possibility / With hopes and dreams

 

This is a gorgeous collection of tanka poetry inspired by the brilliance of black boys, the poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens, the poetry collection Twenty-Six Ways of Looking at a Black Man by Raymond R. Patterson and Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s essay collection Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man.

Medina celebrates black boyhood through thirteen thoughtful & resonant poems. Readers are also treated to artwork from thirteen of children’s literature’s top black illustrators. Many of the poems in this collection were originally paired with photographs of residents of Anacostia, Washington D.C., a historically black neighborhood originally home to Nacotchtank Native peoples.

13Ways1stPoem

Image Credit: Penny Candy Books, Tony Medina & 13 Artists

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

A Bike Like Sergio’s

 

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Maribeth Boelts/Noah Z. Jones

In A Bike Like Sergio‘s, Ruben’s family has trouble making ends meet and money is always tight. His best friend Sergio has a slick new bike and doesn’t understand why Ruben can’t just ask his parents to buy him one too. Ruben, like many children around the world, already understands the necessity of being choosy about every purchase in order for his family to survive.

One day at the grocery store, a lady drops “just a dollar” that turns out to be a hundred and Ruben’s thoughts go straight to buying a new bike!! But when he sees his mother crossing items off their grocery list (they can’t afford all of it), he starts to feel guilty; the bill suddenly weighs heavy in his pocket. After Ruben scares himself by thinking he’s lost the money, and his dream bike, he develops empathy for the woman when he sees her again in the store…What’s the right decision to make when you’re so close to having something you desire, and maybe even deserve?

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Puffy: People Whose Hair Defies Gravity

Puffy

Image Credit: CreateSpace, Aya de León

Black hair texture varies and because many of us are blended, it comes in every form imaginable. People of African origin naturally have a coarser hair type and our hair is often seen as unkempt, not beautiful and unprofessional. We can also be the toughest critics of our natural hair and therefore it’s SO important that children with “puffy” hair see positive images of themselves.

This picture book is a celebration of puffy hair in every magnificent form on various shades of skin. While reading Aya de León’s rhyming text and seeing the joyful photographs, readers will delight in the diversity of natural hair. Puffy isn’t just about hair, it’s about vibrancy and pride in oneself.

Representation matters and I would’ve loved this book as a child. My peers had a lot to say about my dreadlocks (“Are you a boy or a girl??”) and reading a book with people who looked like me in it would’ve been empowering! This unabashedly happy book is needed; it’s already difficult enough to find shining brown faces on book covers and this one is a welcome addition to every library.

I hope you’ll enjoy Puffy: people whose hair defies gravity! #CareFreeBlackKids

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Friendship, Pride, Hair, Black Hair, Empowerment, Diversity, Black Girls Rock, Identity, Encouragement, Read-Aloud
Book Info: Puffy: people whose hair defies gravity by Aya de León, 2013 CreateSpace, ISBN: 9781494436773

Happy to Be Nappy

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Image Credit: Jump at the Sun (Hyperion Books for Children), bell hooks/Chris Raschka

If I could ask any illustrator to draw my portrait, I’d choose Chris Raschka because I see myself in his illustrations.

Sitting still in a chair while mom, aunt or grandma cornrows/straightens/combs/dries our hair is something many black women grow up experiencing. One of my best memories is when my dad would sit me in front of him and speed dry my dreads with a towel, making me laugh. Hair care is a past-time, talking time, learning time and…waiting time. Oh sometimes it takes so long. >_<

“Nappy” is a term that means “unkempt” or “messy” or generally “rough” in black-hair-speak. If someone says your hair is nappy, it’s not a nice thing to say. Black women have a long history of resisting (or accepting) western hair norms but we’re always creative. We embrace our natural curls, we straighten, we twist, we curl, we weave, we grow afros. Black hair culture is fascinating.

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Image Credit: Jump at the Sun (Hyperion Books for Children), bell hooks/Chris Raschka

Happy to Be Nappy is bell hook’s book for little black girls and their hair. It’s about loving your hair in every capacity. Sometimes it’s frizzy, sometimes it’s neatly braided, sometimes it’s flat but it’s always a crown. This book celebrates being happy with the way you look and proud of the way you feel and pairs excellently with I Like Myself!  Any child can relate to the happiness and confidence exhibited by the girls in this book.

Chris Raschka’s art is perfect. His watercolor and bold black lines bring Happy to be Nappy to life. The pages are filled with blotchy colors, wide and thin strokes and swoops of black piled on top of brown faces with simple, beautiful expressions. Raschka really lets the watercolor soak into the paper and the results are gorgeous. ❤

I’m so nappy happy I discovered this book and I hope you’ll seek it out to enjoy too! 🙂

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Hair, Black Hair, Girl Power, Happy, Empowerment, Family, Relationships, Pride, Black Girls Rock, Black Girl Magic, Confidence, Self Esteem, Diversity, Read-Aloud, Rhyme
Book Info: Happy to be Nappy  by bell hooks/Illustrated by Chris Raschka, 1999 Jump at the Sun (Hyperion Books for Children), ISBN: 9780786804276

 

The Black Snowman

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Image Credit: Blue Ribbon (Scholastic Inc.), Phil Mendez/Carole Byard

Merry Christmas!

This is quite a unique story and it’s been on my bookshelf since I was a little girl. Inspired by Frosty the Snowman, this retelling is Afrocentric, inspiring and reminds readers of the importance of love, family and having pride in oneself!

The Black Snowman is a story of a young black boy named Jacob who’s very sad and bitter. It’s almost Christmas and his mother is poor. He equates being black with being poor and comes to believe that all black things are bad; black magic, black people, black everything! We learn of a magic kente cloth from Africa that once belonged to a powerful storyteller. Hundreds of years later, sold like the Africans it once belonged to, the kente is but a rag and is lost…or is it?

On the city streets, Jacob and his brother Peewee make a snowman out of the black snow. Peewee finds the kente in a trash bin and drapes The Black Snowman with the beautiful rag and he comes to life! He tries to teach Jacob the majesty of Blackness. When Jacob is ready to listen, he also teaches him of the wonders and greatness of Africa; encouraging him to realize he descends from great people. The Black Snowman helps save Jacob and his brother Peewee in more ways than one. Jacob finally realizes how lucky he really is to have his mother and brother’s love and finds courage and pride within himself.

Carole Byard’s art is dynamic and colorful. She depicts the dark, cold streets of the inner city at wintertime in a wonderful way. The bright colors of the kente shine through the gray skies and blustery snow. My favorite page is the one with Jacob, Peewee and their mom smiling in the kitchen, embraced in a tight hug.

This unique story about family, poverty, Christmas, and pride in oneself and heritage has so many applications for discussion in the classroom and at home. I hope you’ll seek out The Black Snowman to read and enjoy.

**This book seems to be out of print! Boo…so check your local library and used bookseller!

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Pride, Siblings, Social Issues, Poverty, Struggle With Identity, We Need Diverse Books, Diversity, Inner Strength, Discussion, Love, Family, Fantasy, Community, Christmas, Afrocentrism, Africa, Slavery, African-American
Book Info: The Black Snowman by Phil Mendez/Illustrated by Carole Byard, 1989 Blue Ribbon (Scholastic Inc.), ISBN: 9780590448734