Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen

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Image Credit: Farrar Strauss Giroux Books for Young Readers, Debbi Michiko Florence/Elizabet Vuković

Whew! It’s been a while, yeah? Today’s review celebrates Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! Let’s go!!

The first in a delightful new beginning chapter book series, Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen is a great addition to your bookshelves. I’m so excited to welcome this new series about a Japanese American girl & her family. Two areas of children’s literature that are lacking in diverse/#ownvoices stories are Beginning Chapter Book Series & Board Books, so it’s encouraging to see this new series *hopefully* flourish.

Every year, Jasmine’s family hosts a mochi-tsuki; they make sweet rice cakes to celebrate the New Year. But this year, OH THIS YEAR, Jasmine is determined to help make the mochi (even though she’s too young). Her bossy big sister Sophie is finally old enough to help the women roll the mochi…but she can’t! She thinks up a clever plan though; she’ll help the men of the family pound the mochi! In order to lift the big wooden hammer, she has to build up her strength first. Jasmine pushes against traditional gender roles in order to accomplish her goal of joining the men in the physical work.

I like how Florence invites the reader inside of Jasmine’s home; we’re placed right in the middle of the drama, love and mochi-tsuki. In addition to dealing with a bossy big sister, Jasmine battles a visiting cousin who’s a bully! Jasmine is eager, as most young children are, to do the same thing her big sister does. She’s also eager to show everyone how capable she is. Readers follow her ups and downs and by the end of the book, will admire and respect her fortitude. Jasmine is one determined kid!

I love Elisabet Vuković’s ink and watercolor illustrations; they really enhance the story. She’s great at characterization; Jasmine has confident body language and her spunky facial expressions are hilarious.

I hope your child will enjoy Jasmine’s story as much as I did! Don’t miss this one; libraries & bookstores, please add this one to your beginning chapter book sections!

 

P.S. Coming July 11th, 2017, Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen includes an easy mochi recipe at the back of the book! How fun! Also, the second book in the series, Jasmine Toguchi: Super Sleuth, releases the same day!! Say, what?  😉

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Family, Friendship, Siblings, Determination, Humor, Girl Power, Diversity, Japanese American Culture, Japanese Food, #Ownvoices
Book Info: Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen by Debbi Michiko Florence/Illustrated by Elizabet Vuković, 2017 Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 9780374304102

 

 

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Celebrating Our Grandmothers

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Image Credit: Inhabit Media Inc., Susan Avingaq & Maren Vsetula/Charlene Chua

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Image Credit: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group), Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/ Elizabeth Zunon

Today I’m doing a double review of two excellent books that explore relationships with grandmothers. Fishing with Grandma and Don’t Call Me Grandma are very different stories that feature loving and powerful grandmothers.

Don’t Call Me Grandma wasn’t what I expected it to be. From reading the title alone, I assumed it would be about a grandmother who doesn’t want to be reminded of her age but that’s not what it’s about at all! Vaunda Micheaux Nelson writes really great books by the way; I’ve already reviewed The Book Itch and Bad News for Outlaws. This book tells the story of a little girl and her relationship with her glamorous Great-Grandmother Nell. Great-Grandmother Nell has a strong personality; she’s very prickly but is also loving (in her own way). Nell’s great-granddaughter is slightly scared of her but because she knows how special she is, she works hard to get close to her.

I really enjoyed the flashbacks scenes in this book because they tell us more about Great-Grandmother Nell. The scene about Nell’s first heart-break is very moving, though it’s not the kind of heart-break you might expect. Great-Grandmother Nell is ninety six  years old and has lived through the civil rights movement and more. I’m glad to see this story discuss race and being a Colored girl (and later a Colored woman) in the United States.

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Image Credit: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group), Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/Elizabeth Zunon

Elizabeth Zunon’s illustrations are beautiful. Her style is a mix of watercolor, pen, markers, collage and pencil. Great-granddaughter favors Great-Grandmother and Great-Grandmother’s warm brown face is full of rich lines and wrinkles. All the beautiful perfume bottles on her vanity and the scene where she teaches her great-granddaughter how to blot her lipstick reminds me of my grandmother. For the flashback scenes, Zunon uses blotchy watercolors that give the feeling of hazy memory. Check out this behind the scenes blog post about how Zunon created the illustrations!

Great-Grandmother Nell is a strong grandmother and so is Anaanatsiaq (grandmother) in Fishing with Grandma. She drives an ATV and is always down for an adventure! In the story, a little boy and girl are excited to visit their favorite elder. Their visit starts with string games and fresh bannock from the oven but the children are eager for a little more adventure. They decide to go jigging for fish on the ice and Anaanatsiaq shows them how to dress for the cold. She also shows them to how to check the ice for thickness (safety first) and how to use traditional tools!

One of my favorite things about this book is that it’s full of Inuktitut words and describes Inuit fishing tools. Children can learn a bit of another language while enjoying a story about a loving indigenous family. Another plus is that the story is co-written by Inuit elder Susan Avingaq…so it’s a story about indigenous peoples written by an indigenous woman for children all over the world. This is the power of #ownvoices.

After the family has a successful day of fishing, Anaanatsiaq explains that the extra fish they caught will go to elders who can’t make it out to the lake. It’s important to give and think of others and also important to learn traditional skills, she says. These are good lessons for children all over the world to take away.

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Image Credit: Inhabit Media Inc., Susan Avingaq & Maren Vsetula/Charlene Chua

Charlene Chua’s digital illustrations are so clean and vibrant. I love how she brings their community to life and I especially like the spreads on the blue ice and underwater with the beautiful Arctic char. I like how she uses streaks of color to fill space; it creates a pretty effect. Her characters have such bright expressions and rosy cheeks! Annanatsiaq is loving and protective of her curious grandchildren; her happy face shows a lot of pride. They’re adventurers just like her!

I hope your family will take time to enjoy these two stories about grandmothers. Maybe you can even read them with your grandmothers!

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Grandmothers, Relationships, Teamwork, Ice Fishing, Siblings, Love, Indigenous Peoples, Community, Diversity, Strong Women
Book Info: Fishing with Grandma by Susan Avingaq & Maren Vsetula/Illustrated by Charlene Chua, 2016 Inhabit Media Inc., ISBN: 9781772270846

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Grandmothers, Racism, History, Relationships, African American, Strong Women, Patience, Understanding
Book Info: Don’t Call Me Grandma by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, 2016 Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group), ISBN: 9781467742085

What Can You Do With a Paleta?

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Image Credit: Tricycle Press (Ten Speed Press), Carmen Tafolla/Magaly Morales

What Can You Do With a Paleta? is a joyful celebration of summer and community. The little girl’s barrio is rich, vibrant and full of juicy paletas!  Summertime isn’t complete without a cold sweet treat to cool you down and in this book we learn all the things that can be done with a paleta…

Food is community; it brings people together. In the girl’s barrio, the tinkling bell of the paleta wagon mixed with the smell of fresh buttery tortillas is distinct and welcoming. We follow her as she shows us how a paleta can help make new friends, how an icy blue one leaves a big blue mustache and how giving someone a paleta can make their day! I love how Carmen Tafolla opens the book with a lyrical, visual description of the barrio and ends with the same words. This creates the feeling of being invited to the barrio and as we leave, we’re reminded of the sweet smells, flavors and sights of our visit. It’s lovely!

Magaly Morales’ illustrations are bold, rich and earthy. Her style reminds me of Yuyi Morales’ older work (Sand Sister). We get to peek through the windows of the houses in the community and Morales’ use of pink, orange and yellow acrylics washes the pages in warmth. Brown faces are smiling, laughing and enjoying the hot summer! The paletas, in all their vibrant colors, look refreshing and delicious.

I hope you’ll enjoy What Can You Do With a Paleta? It’s the perfect summer read-aloud. 🙂

 

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Community, Love, Mexican Culture, Food Culture, Summertime, Friendship, Fun, Happiness, Diversity, Siblings, Read-Aloud
Book Info: What Can You Do With a Paleta? by Carmen Tafolla/Illustrated by Magaly Morales, 2009 Tricycle Press (Ten Speed Press), ISBN: 9781582462219

Real Sisters Pretend

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Image Credit: Tilbury House Publishers, Megan Dowd Lambert/Nicole Tadgell

What makes a relationship real? Is it blood? Dedication? Love? As the little girls in this book know, real sisters never have to pretend.

In Real Sisters Pretend, two sisters play a game of pretend princesses. The younger sister Mia says to her big sister Tayja “Let’s pretend we are sisters” and Tayja quickly corrects & reassures her that they are already sisters, real sisters, and there’s no need to pretend that! As they play, they discuss adoption and a confused stranger they met at the grocery store.

I like the way Megan Dowd Lambert and Nicole Tadgell craft the story and illustrations to create a conversation. Like real life, serious & important moments are blended into the silly ones. Tayja and Mia (climbing princesses) play, take a snack break and continue to play until their other mommy comes home. Readers will enjoy Tadgell’s beautiful watercolor illustrations; she brings these girls, their sweet relationship and loving family to life. When I first saw the cover of this book months ago, I was drawn to the image of two brown girls embracing; it’s powerful!

Real Sisters Pretend is a lovely and important book that can help adopted children make sense of people who “just don’t get” what they naturally understand. I think any child with siblings or cousins will connect to Mia and Tayja. I highly recommend checking out this article from the author about her family & the experience that inspired this story and also this post from the illustrator about her process creating the illustrations! I hope you’ll add this one to your collection. 🙂

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Love, Siblings, Blended Families, Adoption, Relationships, Humor, Diversity, Compassion, Forever Families
Book Info: Real Sisters Pretend by Megan Dowd Lambert/Illustrated by Nicole Tadgell, 2016 Tilbury House Publishers, ISBN: 9780884484417

 

Teeny Tiny Toady

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Image Credit: Sterling Children’s Books (Sterling Publishing), Jill Esbaum/Keika Yamaguchi

Can you say “Modern Classic?” The story and art feel old in the best way. This book feels warm and happy, like sitting snuggled on Grandma’s lap as she reads you The Three Little Pigs and a slice of her chicken pot pie sits comfortably in your belly. Yup, Teeny Tiny Toady feels familiar…and EPIC.

The story starts in a super dramatic way; a big bad human picks Mama Toad up and traps her in a bucket! Cute little Teeny Toady rushes to get her seven big, burly, body-building older brothers to help her but they insist they can handle the situation themselves. The Toady Bros struggle to rescue their mother; every one of their attempts fail and of course they’re too busy to listen to their teeny sister’s suggestions! Before they know it, they’re in trouble too and Teeny must find courage & strength to become a Teeny Hero. There’s something to be said for brains over brawn and her Mama believes in her from the very beginning. 😉

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Image Credit: Sterling Children’s Books (Sterling Publishing), Jill Esbaum/Keika Yamaguchi

Esbaum’s rhyming text is delightful and sounds great when read aloud. She’s a very good storyteller; the pacing, drama, humor and characters are perfect. This story teaches an important lesson for little ones; have faith in yourself and even if you’re little, you can do big things! Yamaguchi’s digital illustrations are magical; lush greens, soft colors and warty chubby toad bodies fill the pages. The toads ARE.SO.CUTE. My goodness. I love how she illustrates and characterizes them; their expressions and personalities are great and feel inspired by Disney and/or anime (especially their eyes!).

One of my favorite spreads is when Teeny thinks up her plan; Esbaum’s text floats and curls from left to right alongside the swirls of leaves and color straight to Teeny’s brain! What a great story! You will fall in love with this family. Teeny Tiny Toady deserves a spot near your favorite fairy tales and fables.

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Fables, Lessons, Inner Strength, Creative Thinking, Determination, Rhyme, Family, Relationships, Siblings, Girl Power, Read-Aloud, Animals, Love
Book Info: Teeny Tiny Toady by Jill Esbaum/Illustrated by Keika Yamaguchi, 2016 Sterling Children’s Books (Sterling Publishing), ISBN: 9781454914549

Thunder Boy Jr.

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Image Credit: Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), Sherman Alexie/Yuyi Morales

There aren’t enough words to describe the joy that is this book and how ecstatic I am to know it. I feel privileged to be a bookseller and share this book with the world. I get to put this book into little hands and I’m hoping that kids will connect to Thunder Boy Jr.

I’ve been anticipating this collaboration for over a year, since it was announced, because Sherman Alexie and Yuyi Morales create magic…and together?? Rarely do we get such cosmic levels of possibility and creativity as this. I’m calling this book for, at the very least, a Caldecott Honor but it deserves a Caldecott Medal. I doubt the Newbery Committee will choose a picture book winner again this year but the story/writing is POWER.

You’d think Thunder Boy Jr. is a super special name; that only one person in the world has it but actually that’s not true. Thunder Boy is named after his dad and though his dad is great, he wants his own name! Thunder Boy likes to do things like ride his bike, roll in the mud and Grass Dance so maybe his new name could be related to those things? With a nickname like Little Thunder, it sure is easy to feel small but his bright and rambunctious personality (and the love between him and his father) will see him through.

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Image Credit: Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), Sherman Alexie/Yuyi Morales

Rarely do we get to see picture books about Native American families and this important and beautiful book should be in every library. I’m hoping teachers and families around the world will love Thunder Boy Jr. because it speaks to individuality, growing up and identity (and just happens to feature a loving Native family.) Indigeneity is central to the story but also it isn’t. It’s SO lovely to read a picture book that talks about powwow and how names are given and earned in Native cultures! Wow! ❤ Though the story focuses on a son-dad relationship, readers will love Little Thunder’s cool mom and his cute little sister who, by the way, have “fancy-normal” names.

Yuyi Morales’ illustrations have so much raw energy and vivid color and for that reason she’s one of my favorites (I’ve reviewed Just a Minute! in the past). I love how she draws the big body of Thunder Boy Sr. next his small son; he really is like his namesake. Earthy & bright colors and lots of movement fill the pages; this family bursts onto the scene like a lighting bolt and at the end of the book, I feel as though I know them. I enjoy how the writing matches the illustrations exactly in some parts of the book but Morales also uses her illustrations to create a separate story that gives us more insight into Little Thunder’s personality. He rocks out hard on a guitar but his dad is angry about the broken strings and he slyly steals his sister’s red ball as he continues sharing his story.

Thunder Boy Jr. is the strongest picture book so far of 2016 and I’m hoping people will love it and cherish it. Something tells me Little Thunder would gobble up all the love and attention…especially now that he has confidence in his brand new name!

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All the love and happiness

 

P.S. Since this book is out in the wild now, great discussions are starting. It has a lot of potential to teach but it also discusses aspects of native cultures that might need explanation to some readers. Please check out Debbie Reese’s two posts about how to read this book with your children; it gives context that the book itself is lacking. They are here and here.

 

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Family, Love, Humor, Identity, Struggle With Identity, Individuality, Growing Up, Native Americans, Father-Son, Siblings, Frustration, Powwow, Cultural Diversity, Diversity, Read-Aloud, Discussion
Book Info: Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie/Illustrated by Yuyi Morales, 2016 Little, Brown and Company (Hachette Book Group), ISBN: 9780316013727

My Heart Fills With Happiness

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Image Credit: Orca Book Publishers, Monique Gray Smith/Julie Flett

I’m so glad to finally read this little book! Board book format is perfect for this story because it’s meant to be handled, loved and explored. My Heart Fills With Happiness is a much needed depiction of modern Native families; children’s publishing doesn’t have enough and I’m excited to welcome this story!

The families in this book are so happy and loving. Simple sentences accompany an illustration; children can study the art and work towards reading on their own. This story will evoke memories and inspire new memory-making in your family. Sometimes the simplest things put a smile on your face and make your heart full.

Julie Flett! I’ve already reviewed Wild Berries; I’ve expressed my love for her illustrations and once again, she’s created beautiful images to cherish. Her art paired with Monique Gray Smith’s lovely words (the font is also perfect!) is beautiful. This is a great new book to add to your collection and I hope it’ll be well loved alongside all your chewed up and cherished board books. 🙂

 

Recommended for: Babies, Toddlers, Early Readers
Great for: Family, Relationships, Siblings, Love, Everyday Life, Read-Aloud, Native Families, Nature, Happiness, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, Discussion, Vocabulary
Book Info: My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith/Illustrated by Julie Flett, 2016 Orca Book Publishers, ISBN: 9781554987290

Growing Up Pedro

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Matt Tavares

Let me get this off my chest…I’m not a baseball fan and I think that’s why it took me so long to pick up this book. I didn’t read it until I decided to participate in a Twitter Chat (SharpSchu) to discuss it. Sometimes I have to remind myself to open my eyes and embrace everything. I’m still not big on baseball but Growing Up Pedro isn’t just about baseball; it’s about the amazing relationship between brothers Ramón and Pedro Martínez.

The size of this picture book is large; it’s designed to be opened wide and fully experienced. As soon as you open the first page, you’ll see a sweeping landscape of the Dominican Republic in 1981 and little brown boys playing stickball. This sets the tone of the story where we’ll learn how two great baseball players came to dominate American baseball.

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Matt Tavares

From an early age, Pedro admires his big brother Ramón’s skill and they practice together, throwing balls at the ripe mangos hanging from the trees. Eventually Ramón makes it to the LA Dodgers in 1985 and when he leaves for America, Pedro becomes more determined than ever to follow him. Ramón learns from his struggles and makes sure that Pedro is better in English than him when he’s ready to join him in the Major Leagues. Pedro isn’t as big as Ramón (this will cause some to doubt his ability) but his heart is just as big if not bigger. Heart pumping full of determination, he makes it to the Minor-Leagues just as his big brother is making waves on the Dodgers.

The brothers end up on the Dodgers, together. But before he knows it, Pedro is traded to Montreal! He continues to shine due to his inner strength and the support of his big brother. He DOMINATES as a pitcher and eventually surpasses even his brother in skill. Pedro goes to the Red Sox and later Ramón joins him again and together they lead the Red Sox to the American League Championship Series. Throughout their career, the Martínez Brothers are the pride of the Dominican Republic and never forget where they come from.

Tavares’ watercolor and gouache illustrations are dynamic. As I mentioned earlier, the wide, sweeping landscapes are gorgeous. I particularly enjoy the scenes of young Pedro and Ramón against the green trees, in shorts and caps, playing baseball with their friends and having fun! Baseball lovers will appreciate the almost photorealistic paintings of the brothers during their prime, pitching on the mound with determination in their eyes. If you’re looking for an excellent story about brotherhood, love and reaching for your dreams (oh and baseball 😉 ), pick up Growing Up Pedro!

P.S. If you buy this book, be sure to remove the jacket and check out the cover!! It’s really cool and brings the story full circle. Also, this book will be published in Spanish soon! SWEET!

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Brotherhood, Ripe Mangos, Siblings, Relationships, Role Model, Admiration, Dreams, Determination, Coming of Age, Diversity, Cultural Diversity, We Need Diverse Books, Community, Friendship, Baseball, Biography, Sports, Sports History, Pedro Martínez, Ramón Martínez, LA Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Montreal Expos, Dominican Republic, Inner-Strength
Book Info: Growing Up Pedro by Matt Tavares, 2015 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763668242

That Book Woman

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Image Credit: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), Heather Henson/David Small


That Book Woman
is one of my favorite finds of this year. I LOVE this book. I found it sandwiched in the picture book stacks at my bookstore and it was actually on its way back to the publisher due to low sales. I’m telling you, I found some interesting books that way. This book tells the story of a family in the remote Appalachian mountains of Kentucky and is beautifully written both in style and in the smooth rhythm of Appalachian dialect.

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Image Credit: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), Heather Henson/David Small

Cal holds a grudge against his sister Lark whose nose is always in book. He’s working hard and she’s always…readin’. Hmph. Well he doesn’t want to sit still reading “chicken scratch” and he’s baffled as to why a woman (in britches!) rides around bringing free books and why his sister treats those books so reverently. Pap though, he encourages his daughter’s love of reading and offers to the Book Woman what they can. Though all kinds of weather, the Book Woman rides her horse up the mountains and keeps coming to trade out books and Cal just can’t make sense of it! He starts to think that maybe…that woman is brave, maybe it’s worth seeing what’s so great about those books and what makes her so determined to share them.

That Book Woman is inspired by the real women who braved remote regions called the Pack Horse Women. Be sure to read the Author’s Note in the back to learn more about these amazing women who dared to work outside the home and do their best to improve literacy.

The art in this book is so right for the story. The soft watercolors and pastel chalk with heavy ink outlines are beautiful and David Small is so spot on with Cal’s expressions. Cal is so dang surly at first and we watch him soften as his curiosity gets the better of him. I love the scene of Pap and Lark together, a poke of berries in his hands as they gaze at each other. If you have a house full a readers who also love history, please check out That Book Woman. It’s a great story!

 

Recommended for: All ages
Great for: Reading, Literacy, Encouraging Reading, Discussion, History, Appalachian, Rhythm, Siblings, Family, Perspective, Growing Up, Girl Power, Pack Horse Librarians, Works Progress Administration, Rural Life, Cultural Diversity, We Need Diverse Books
Book Info: That Book Woman by Heather Henson/Illustrated by David Small, 2008 Atheneum Books for Young Reader (Simon & Schuster), ISBN: 9781416908128

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