Bryan Smith’s Diversity is Key

Diversity if KeyAt first, I was suspicious of Diversity is Key, which is written by Bryan Smith and illustrated by Lisa M. Griffin. The first-person narrative unfolds from the point-of-view of a blond girl with pale white skin named Amelia. A new student from Japan will be joining her class, and this just happens to coincide with “diversity week.” The plot is a bit contrived and the tone is a bit didactic, but overall it works.

The narrator seems to have never heard of diversity before her teacher begins discussing “diversity week.” But she quickly catches on and is receptive to the lessons her peers impart about their cultures. For instance, the new Japanese student demonstrates how school in Japan differs from school in the US. She explains that in Japan students serve lunch, eat in classrooms, and cleanup after themselves. A Mexican American student describes the importance of family to her community through a discussion of Dia De Los Muertos. The week ends with a Hawaiian celebration at a student’s home.

Importantly, learning about cultural difference prompts the narrator to reflect on and change her own behaviors. She will clean-up after herself at school and she will celebrate her deceased grandmother’s birthday by making spaghetti and meatballs.

Although it’s not a must have title, I appreciate the book. Back matter introduces activities parents and educators can use to extend the story’s lessons.

*I received a review copy of the text via NetGalley.

Miranda Paul and Baptiste Paul’s I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon

I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon

I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon, written by Miranda Paul and Baptiste Paul and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, is a non-fiction account of environmental activism in Cameroon told through the story of farmer and activist Tantoh Nforba who works to bring organic gardening and clean water to Cameroon.

Tantoh is introduced as a young boy delighting in his grandmother’s garden. Sensual images and detailed descriptions of the land, and the vegetables that grow from it, pair brilliantly. The authors work the language of nature into much of the story.

Tantoh remains committed to learning about the earth in high school. His classmates nickname him “Farmer.” Miranda and Baptiste write: “It is not a nice name. It is a name that is meant to make him feel as low as the dirt beneath his feet.” But, it doesn’t have the intended effect on Tantoh who reveres the dirt. He claims the title, scrolling it in large letters on his school uniform.

Tantoh’s father gave him his first shovel and supported his love for the earth. However, his father passed away while Tantoh was still in high school and his brother became head of the house. Because farming was associated with poverty, Tantoh’s brother wanted him to study and get a more prestigious office job. Tantoh stubbornly writes the wrong answers on exams so he will be unable to qualify for the positions his brother has in mind.

After high school Tantoh farms the land, eventually going to college where he studies the environment and agriculture. While at college, Tantoh contracts typhoid after drinking contaminated water. It takes him seven years to recover.

After his long and frightening illness, Tantoh is committed to ensuring his community has access to clean water. He gets the opportunity to study in the US and pursues this goal. Upon returning to Cameroon, and with the help of community members, Tantoh creates botanical and rain gardens as well as springs that provide fresh drinking water.

Tantoh then created an organization called Save Your Future Association, to raise money for equipment to help with his work. He has taken on numerous increasingly large projects to bring clean water and healthy food to the people of Cameroon.

I Am Farmer: Growing an Environmental Movement in Cameroon will make a wonderful addition to personal and school libraries. It can be taught as part of lesson plans about biography, environmentalism and science, geography, or cultural diversity. It does a lot of work! Miranda Paul and Baptiste Paul do a great job balancing detail without being too text heavy. Thoughtful and engaging back matter concludes the book will extend the text’s lessons beyond the story itself.

Available February 15, 2019.

*I received a digital book through NetGalley to write a review.

Babette Cole’s Mummy Never Told Me

Mummy Never Told Me by Cole, Babette [04 March 2004]Mummy Never Told Me (2003) was written and illustrate by the prolific Babette Cole and published in the UK by Jonathon Cape. The story and illustrations are outrageous but oddly charming like much of Cole’s work. This narrative is told from the point-of-view of a curious little boy who realizes life is full of mystery and his mummy has been keeping secrets.

Text and images pair well and follow a predictable format. The boy asks a question that stretches across a two-page spread. The first image depicts him clearly pondering the topic and the second is a silly and surprising illustrated answer.

For instance, in one two-page spread he asks: “what is my tummy button for…”. The whimsical illustrations paired with the text depict him touching his “tummy button.” On the facing page, his naked mother has just given birth and a doctor holds the baby away from her body to emphasize the umbilical cord.

In another two-page spread, the young narrator ponders why he must go to school, since “Mummy was expelled from hers.” An image of a young, very pregnant girl, walking away from a school with a suitcase in hand suggests why. A sign hanging at the front of the school says: “St Ursula’s Convent for NICE Young Ladies.”

Other awkward content includes the boy’s parents jumping naked on their bed and an image of them skinny dipping while out on a date.

Although LGBTQ content is touched on, it is minimal. Some women fall in love with women and some men with men. The narrator is sure he will figure it out one day.

The campy book seems to barely acknowledge its primary audience. Although quite funny, I can only see giving it tongue-in-cheek as a shower gift you never expect your expecting pal to read to her child.

Broutman, Green, and Rabias’ Chicago Treasure

Chicago TreasureChicago Treasure is a clever collection of diverse and disability-inclusive photographs of children digitally imposed onto fairy tale images, well-known works of art, and popular Chicago landmarks. This beautiful, full-color, book contains over 150 captivating images. Larry Broutman is responsible for the concept as well as photography and text, Rich Green produced illustrations and text, and John Rabias created the digital effects.

In the first section, Just Imagine!, original images are paired with abridged versions of classic stories like Riding Hood and Sleeping Beauty as well as updated nursery rhymes. In one image, a young girl sits in a wheel chair as a delighted Prince Charming kneels before her. In another image, a toddler relaxes precariously beside Humpty Dumpty on a wall. In a third, a young blond girl with glasses makes an adorable Miss Muffett as she reaches for the spider that sat down beside her. Less familiar tales, such as Pear Blossom and the Dragon, based on a Chinese legend, introduce readers to diverse stories.

In the second section, Now Showing!, children step into popular paintings, including Grant Wood’s American Gothic and Edward Hopper’s Chop Suey. Some of the children fade into the landscape as if they belong, while others clearly do not.

The final section, Sightings!, melds fantasy and reality as adorable children and scary creatures wander the Chicago landscape. In one image a young person walks a porcupine and a skunk. In another image, a woman walks a panda. In still others, families ride bears and zebras around town.

The ages, races, and abilities of children are refreshingly diverse, disrupting the whiteness and able-bodiedness ubiquitous in most story books and museums. I’m a bit disappointed that gender norms were not challenged more, but overall, I am thrilled this beautiful book exists.

I recommend Chicago Treasure for personal collections. It makes a lovely coffee table book likely to encourage thoughtful conversations. It will also be a great addition to classroom libraries. Many lessons can be planned around the book in areas like art appreciation, disability awareness, and cultural diversity. It’s a delightful book that does a lot of work, literally disrupting dominant narratives by replacing images of able-bodied white people with a far more diverse cast of characters.

Many of the models are students at Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Disabled’s preschool and author proceeds will be donated to the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind and Access Living Chicago.

Available for Purchase March 1:

Everything Goes Media

Amazon

I was provided a review copy of this book.

SIX MONTH BLOGOVERSARY

Image result for six month blogoversary imageIt’s my SIX MONTH BLOGOVERSARY here at RaiseThemRighteous! I began reviewing racially and ethnically diverse, LGBTQ* inclusive, and socially relevant children’s picture books 6 months ago. Then, on January 1, I started reviewing middle grade and young adult books.

I didn’t have many goals for my first 6 months, but I did want to gain 1500 followers across two platforms. And, I did it! I have 1700+ blog followers and 1600+ Twitter followers. I am also on GoodReads.

I put a lot of work into the blog and am so happy it’s becoming a valuable resource for educators, librarians, and parents looking for detailed reviews of books for children and young adults.

I’ve been keeping busy! In 2018, I participated in the Cybils Awards as a Round One Judge for Easy Reader and Early Chapter Books. I really appreciated the opportunity to serve! Then, just a couple days ago, on January 25, I participated in Multicultural Children’s Books Day 2019 as a reviewer!

In the next six months, I am hoping to increase my followers to 2500+ followers on Twitter and another 2500+ on my blog. I think I can do it! I am also probably going to expand my social media presence by working on a Pinterest account. I think that may appeal to a lot of teachers.

Thank you so much for supporting my work at RaiseThemRighteous! If you have ideas for how to improve the blog, recommendations of books to review, or are interested in guest blogging, please email me at: RaiseThemRighteous@gmail.com.

Thank you so much,

Jennifer

 

Breanna J. McDaniel’s Hand Up!

Hands Up!“Hands up,” a command that demands a gesture of compliance, was resignified by activists as a gesture of protest following the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The act of resistance quickly made its way onto the football field and the Grammy Awards’ stage –  even members of the US House of Representatives were using it to protest police shootings of unarmed Black men and women.

Breanna J. McDaniel makes this gesture of resistance available and accessible to children in her joyful new children’s picture book Hands Up!, which is warmly illustrated by Shane W. Evans to visually communicate exuberant expressions of family and community love.

In Hands Up!, a young girl with glowing brown-skin is the clear star of the story. She is the sunny center of her family and community.

Throughout the short picture book, the girl, her family, and her community put their hands up in various gestures of excitement, care, and protest.

Her parents put their hands up to play peek-a-boo. Her grandmother gently guides her to put her hands up as they do her hair. In school, she throws her hands up, excited to share an answer with her class. After winning a basketball game, she stretches her hands up in pride, holding a trophy.

In the last image, she leads community members on a march. All hands are up carrying signs in protest of injustice: “Black Lives Matter,” “Water = Life,” and “Love Your Neighbor.”

This is a sweet-strong book. Young readers will enjoy the carefully worded text that reads like poetry. Older children will be encouraged to have socially relevant conversations about race and the abuse of state power after reading it.

Image and text are in perfect harmony, communicating a sense of warmth and universal humanity where it is often denied. This is a book that can be read over and over, taking on new meaning as the child(ren) in your life mature. Highly recommended for personal and school libraries.

Author Zetta Elliott provided me with a copy of the book to review.

Tommie dePaola’s Oliver Button is a Sissy (1979)

Hardcover Oliver Button Is a Sissy BookTommie dePaola’s Oliver Button is a Sissy (1979) tells the story of a little boy bullied at school and discouraged at home because he doesn’t enjoy typical boy things like playing ball. Oliver would rather be picking flowers and playing with paper dolls.

Realizing their son is not going to take up football anytime soon, Oliver’s parents enroll him in dance. He is so good his teacher recommends he enter a local talent show. Although he doesn’t win, he builds some confidence and his parents learn to be proud of him for the things he is good at, not the things they wish he was good at. In other words, when he takes the stage, they are better able to see him. The kids at school seem to have a change of heart as well.

In 2019, images of gender expansive children are available in several children’s picture books, including Cheryl Kilodavis’s My Princess Boy and Christine Baldacchino’s Morris and the Tangerine Dress. To a lesser extent, characters who embrace a clear camp aesthetic have also made their way to children’s picture books like Lesléa Newman’s The Boy Who Cried Fabulous and Helga Bansch’s Odd Bird Out. However, in 1979 dePaola’s book provided children with a new way to imagine being a boy, uncoupled from rough-and-tumble masculinity.

Although it’s forty-years-old as of 2019, Oliver Button is a Sissy has aged quite well. Narrow visions of masculinity still shape playground gender policing and parents are still too often slow to embrace effeminate sons.

DePaola tells the story in an accessible style sure to engage young readers. His illustrations pair well with the story, showing what he tells in words.

I highly recommend this as an addition to personal and school libraries. Oliver is more subtly gender nonconforming than the children depicted in more recent books, which provides an important representation for children who might like dolls, but not so much dresses.