“Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.”
Multicultural Children’s Book Day
I am very, very sorry to the well-meaning creators of this book
BOOKS FOR WHITE KIDS
OH BOY DO I NOT WANT TO WRITE THIS POST
This is going to be difficult. It’s a review of a book I received to celebrate Multicultural Children’s Book Day. It didn’t turn out as planned. After the review, you’ll find a list of really awesome books that celebrate cultural diversity. As a rule, I’m against reviewing well-intentioned books bother me, but I agreed to do this review before I realized what I was getting into. If you’d like to skip past any uncomfortable points, then go ahead and skip to the giant list of books at the bottom of the page.
Read the below with this in mind: All artists, doers, makers, and world-changers start somewhere. Everything we do is an experiment, and nothing we make will please everyone. I’m writing this review because I know the intent is good, and the people who made this book will have a bright future with powerful, awesome, world-changing books that meet the high bar we need to set for multicultural literature moving forward. So no matter what – keep making books, keep making art, keep going.
SUN KISSES & MOON HUGS (Susan Schaefer Bernardo & Courtenay Fletcher)
For ages (not recommended)
A member of the Books For Littles Facebook group posted about Multicultural Children’s Book Day. The mission is to give visibility to books featuring diverse characters, educating kids about people who live differently than they do, and celebrating difference. I loved the concept, and it fits the Books For Littles mission perfectly – promoting stellar books that celebrate diversity, cultural awareness, and compassion for little kids. Bingo. I’m in.
The book we received, ‘Sun Kisses & Moon Hugs’ fills a need that (white, suburban) families have, and the authors should be proud of the many 5-star Amazon reviews, because all art has a place with the right audience. If you want a book on your shelf that has a few non-white characters but doesn’t get into sticky territory such as teaching your kids about alternative cultures, non-stereotypical racial diversity, or dimensional characters non-white or minority characters, then this is for you.
If it this was sent to me in support of a mindful-hippy-love book, I’d be like, “Yes, 5-stars for flowery hippy stuff!” But it wasn’t. We’re not into that sort of thing over at Bumblebee Hollow, but this might do well in a house full of Birkenstocks and incense. I’d be able to objectively say that it succeeds in making someone somewhere happy. Good for them. Not for us.
If this book was sent to me under no particular theme, I’d give it 3-stars as for tackling separation anxiety in a unique way. Again, not our thing, but if you’re into astral projection and homeopathic sunshine, go buy it. It was done better in Elin Kelsey’s ‘You Are Stardust‘ which uses science-based facts, comforting philosophical logic, and innovative graphics to get the same message across. A few other spectacular separation/death anxiety books include ‘The Invisible String,’ ‘The Kissing Hand,’ and ‘Max at Night.’
There’s no story, which I’m not going to dock points for, but I think this book was meant to be a poem.
“The sun will catch your kiss and use light speed, to forward it right on to me. I’ll send a million kisses back your way. You’ll feel my love in each warm ray.”
That’s a rhyme, I think.
I still can’t get a hold on a cadence, but every page has a couple of lines that kinda sorta rhyme. This drives me insane. If you want to read books with amazing, thoughtful, witty poetry, I’d recommend Kevin Lewis’s ‘Runaway Pumpkin,’ ‘Chugga Chugga Choo Choo,’ or ‘Not Inside This House.’ Also amazing: Margaret Mahy’s ‘Bubble Trouble‘ and for older kids, Julie Fogliano’s ‘When Green Become Tomatoes.’ Or, of course, anything by Dr. Seuss. These authors all toiled to create perfect prose so these stories would be dramatic and fun to read out loud.
If your child is autistic, hasn’t reached the age of reason (roughly age 7), or has another developmental delay that keeps them from processing figurative language, I would steer far clear of this book unless you want to add in a disclaimer after every line. I’m not interested that sort of work unless there’s something else going for the book.
Since I abide by strict rule not to lie to my kids, and to teach accurate science and facts, I was uncomfortable reading figurative language about the natural world that amounted to pure nonsense (and not the fun kind of whimsical nonsense). My kisses do not slide down rainbows, nor can they break earth’s gravity to bounce off the sun using light speed (how in the cosmos does one ‘use light speed?’)
As I read each page out loud, my eldest got more and more confused. For preschoolers, the difference between lying and using metaphor is a blurry, confusing boundary. Sure, it’s an exercise in non-literal language, but that lesson is hard to teach while reading a narrative in the first person.
“From wherever we stand, you see the moon and I see the moon. That is how we can send each other hugs.”
No. Not true on many different levels of space, time, and physics. I can’t tell him that. That is an actual, literal, lie. How can he trust anything I say after spouting that nonsense?
If I tell him teacups are hats and I like to eat houses – he gets that, that’s a joke. It’s not quasi-scientific and he’s got a firm enough grasp of social norms, hyperbole, and physics – he knows I’m exaggerating. Grasping that kisses are not photons and that you can’t see the moon at the same time if you’re on opposite ends of the earth – nope. That’s going to set them up for a whole lot of confusion down the line.
If your kid can grasp this level of metaphor, go ahead and read it, but if there is anything near the slightest possibility that your kid might be on the spectrum or this might compromise his fundamental understanding of space, time and physics, read this with great caution and many caveats and disclaimers.
THE TESTERS WEIGH-IN
Both boys (ages 2.5 & 4.5) were silent during the read. Through all but the worst books, we have discussions about empathy, personal experience, what we learned, and the excitement of the story after each page. This particular book didn’t go over so well. At best, I’d say they were underwhelmed and confused. When I asked my 4-year-old for a testimonial, hoping for something I could write about in the review, I got this:
“It’s pretty good? I don’t like it. But, sure, it’s okay. Can we bring it back to the library now?”
As for me? Uh. Erhm. Well, honestly?
I am furious. I’ve read it over and over this last week, looking for a good spin. I can’t spin it. This is a spectacularly low bar for diversity education.
THIS IS THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT WE NEED ON MULTICULTURAL BOOK DAY
This was the book someone chose to send to me with the specific guideline of celebrating diverse cultures. I am, to put it lightly, dismayed by this decision. This sets a very, very low bar for American children’s literature.
Teaching children about diversity in culture could go many ways. We could investigate and learn about a single culture that is different from our own. We could learn the history and reasons behind our own cultural traditions. We could view a wide array of diverse cultures and the similarities and differences. If the point is to learn about culture, there are many ways to do it.
What we cannot do, ever, is consider an education on diversity to be satisfied by simply painting faces a few shades darker brown.
We cannot include stereotypes of Cartman-esque brownish children on a vague frozen tundra. I can’t even figure out if we’re stereotyping indigenous North Americans or Northern Asians. Doesn’t matter, their sole point in the book is to convey the concept of far-away & otherness.
We cannot include the single dark-skinned boy featured in front of an urban landscape and the white kids in suburbia. We can’t focus primarily on white kids doing regular American things, and throw in an Eiffel tower with another white girl to signify globalism. We can, like this book did, leave out the entire continents of Asia and Africa while kinda sorta making an attempt at global connection using only northern continents. Everyone does it. I’m used to it. I don’t even have the energy to advocate for myself as an Asian, so I’ll stick with the cultures that are currently being maligned, mistreated, murdered and deported right from our country right now.
This book went neither wide nor deep. Frankly I’m just confused. In what universe is this a celebration of any culture other than North American suburbia (and maybe Paris)?
This is the definition of tokenism. This is exactly what people of color mean when we complain about being used as accessories. This is pandering to the concept of diversity without actually celebrating and valuing another culture. The message in this book is clearly “We are white, and this is our story. Also brownish people exist somewhere.”
INTENTION MATTERS, BUT THINKING & WORKING MATTER MORE
Let’s be clear – the creators did nothing actively wrong. From what I’ve seen, they are well-intentioned mothers living in a very fun-looking lifestyle. The accompanying website is adorable and they seem like very nice ladies. The author, Susan Bernardo has collaborated on books with LeVar Burton. Everyone loves LeVar Burton! I’m told she’s ‘a big advocate for kids’ reading,’ which is a fun thing to advocate for because no one is against it.
But come on, guys. We can’t add a little brown to a few characters’ skin tones, wipe our hands together in satisfaction and consider this our contribution to equality. As authors, publishers, organizers and reviewers, we have the power, influence, and obligation to add characters with rich environmental backgrounds and heritages, abilities, body sizes, genders, and experiences. We don’t have room for this level of education and we have to bring more to the table in every. single. thing. Especially children’s books, the thing we use to educate our kids amidst work deadlines, packing lunches and busy schedules.
Hold on I have to take a deep breath and walk around for a bit.
For many authors with the privilege of time, money, and resources to publish a story, diversity in race and culture is an optional flourish. Adding non-whites is a token gesture that takes no additional effort, but gets families like mine to quit raising hell about the lack of white characters. It’s like a gift, except the gift is the most basic, stereotypical representation that does absolutely nothing for our actual equality. Simply making a few characters a shade of brown and adding a tiny kid in a wheelchair in the scenery gets your book access into a multicultural children’s bookshelf. That’s the bar we’ve set for ourselves.
I am…angry about this.
Raising our kids to celebrate diversity and understand that ours is not the primary and most important culture in the universe is not going to happen without some serious research, reflection, and hard work. If we’re going to combat racism, social injustice, and cultural divides, we need to read powerful books with our very limited time. Children’s books must take an active role in celebrating people of color and non-suburban white cultures rather than using them as accessories.
We need an equal ratio of males to females in EVERY SINGLE BOOK. We need dimensional, positive, and equal representation for multiple races in EVERY SINGLE BOOK. This isn’t a multi-cultural book. It’s just a book. This should be the bare minimum, not a book we have to actively market as an exception to the majority of books featuring white boys with trucks and white girls in tutus.
THIS BOOK HAS A PLACE – IT’S JUST NOT HERE
The publisher could have filled with this space with powerful literature from authors who have hustled hard to educate our children on diversity and cultural awareness. Modern families don’t have the time or energy to sift through clutter to get to the good stuff, so we have to guard our resources carefully – including the innocuous, tiny decisions that we make in choosing our story-time books. Because of this fact, I can’t endorse this book as a multi-cultural book, and consider it rather harmful.
I want to be sweet and grateful for this free book, and laud the authors with applause and support, but guys – our fellow citizens of color are in danger, our fellow Americans are dying on the streets, there are child refugees being denied asylum because of religion, and this filler is getting in the way and stealing our attention.
Ugh. Guys. I really don’t want to skewer the work of people who just wanted to make something nice to share with other families. But we can do better than this. We HAVE TO.
GREAT Multicultural Children’s Books
Let this be the new bar for multi-cultural books. Read them all.
Add your own recommendations in the comments. We can do better. We MUST do better.
We follow the sun personified as it travel around the world in Bob Graham’s powerfully simple, peaceful writing style and illustrations that depict diversity across many of his books.
“The sun took off over the countryside, woke bears and snow cats, and caught Kosha and his father on their way to market.”
That prose tho. Damn.
(Hesse & Watson)
While this family could live in any northern European or North American country during a depression or time of war, this book shows us the challenges and experiences of a family living through a time of famine and poverty. Three kids are hungry and their single mom can’t make enough to feed them. This story shows the challenge of integrity versus hunger and eventually, compassion. It’s a bit washed, as a story goes compared to the reality of living in poverty, but a good intro to educate kids about families, societies, and times when those in need don’t have enough to survive.
This is mostly a fairy-tale but takes place in Ireland during the potato famine. It gave us a chance to discuss why my children’s ancestors emigrated from Ireland in the 1800’s and some of the cultural pride we’ve kept as Irish Americans.
(Rockliff & Brooker)
An apartment building full of people of different ethnicities and cultural traditions gather together every week for a Shabbat dinner hosted by a kind and welcoming neighbor. This gathering of traditions and kindness is a super-sweet book recommended by a member of BFL facebook group. (Hi, Omer!)
Another great Shabbat book, read ‘Bim and Bom: A Shabbat Tale‘ by Daniel Schwartz & Melissa Iwai, featuring a female carpenter and male baker sibling duo (ALL THE FEMINIST POINTS!) and the joy of preparing for family time together on Shabbat.
From the Ordinary People Change The World series, this was our introduction to physical disability beyond wheelchairs and Helen Keller’s ability to use her disabilities for positive change (as a strength rather than a weakness) is empowering for those of us in other disability communities and cultures.
‘The Sound of Colors‘ by Jimmy Liao is also a nice read – unhindered by sight, a girl images what is around her using her imagination in surreal illustrations.
Unhei, a Korean immigrant starting school in North America hits bumps while navigating her new home and retaining the comforts of her old one. She’s anxious to fit in and has to decide what she’s going to keep from her old culture, and what she has to let go of.
(Newman & Thompson)
This basic toddler board book shows a two-mom family constellation in all of it’s normalcy.
A traditional folk tale in modern Cameroon, this book features rich illustrations, a moral on hard work, boasting, humility and cleverness – and a recipe for bitterleaf stew.
Lisa Brown has a plethora of great books and this is one of our favorites. It features an exceptionally diverse cast with mixed-race families, people with turbans, burkas, a cell-phone-obsessed woman in a pantsuit, and various ages and abilities. The best part of the book is the rich background detail. Once you’ve gone through the book reading about the main family, you can then go back and re-read it paying more attention to each of the several background characters to watch how each story unfolds – many of which are extremely touching and sweet.
(Alexie & Morales)
I’ll admit, I got this book because I was hoping it was about farts.It was soooo much better though. Thunder Boy’s frustration hit home with me and would have been so validating to read as a little kid, while I was wrestling with a weird name of my own and all the school-yard taunting that comes with it.This book is a succinct, gorgeous introduction to a traditional Native American naming tradition and it goes from validating to powerful by the end of the book. Highly recommended if you gave your kid a weird name, or even if you just love a charming, fun read.
A Kiss Goodbye
(Penn & Gibson)
Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team are on a mission to change all of that.
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1 Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators. Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team are on a mission to change all of that. Current Sponsors: MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include Scholastic, Barefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. Roman, Audrey Press, Candlewick Press, Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTV, Capstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle Swift, Wisdom Tales Press, Lee& Low Books, The Pack-n-Go Girls, Live Oak Media, Author Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books. Author Sponsor include: Karen Leggett Abouraya, Veronica Appleton, Susan Bernardo, Kathleen Burkinshaw, Maria Dismondy, D.G. Driver, Geoff Griffin, Savannah Hendricks, Stephen Hodges, Carmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid Imani, Gwen Jackson, Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana Llanos, Natasha Moulton-Levy, Teddy O’Malley, Stacy McAnulty, Cerece Murphy, Miranda Paul, Annette Pimentel, Greg Ransom, Sandra Richards, Elsa Takaoka, Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang
We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also work tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.
MCBD site: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/
Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta
Free Kindness Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teachers-classroom-kindness-kit/
Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents: http://bit.ly/1sZ5s8i