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2019 May



In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: They Call Me Mix by Lourdes Rivas

On 28, May 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

They Call Me Mix/Me Llaman Masestre written in English and Spanish by Lourdes Rivas, edited in Spanish by Alicia Arellano, illustrated by Breena Nunez

From Goodreads: The story starts with Lourdes recalling childhood and noticing how gendered everything about existence is since before we’re even born. Lourdes points out how people create categories to make life easier but when it comes to people, gender categories can make life so difficult – restrooms, clothing stores, toy stores, sports teams, fitting rooms. They have a hard time even imagining where they’ll ever fit in.

Then they find queer and trans community where they feel empowered to reinvent language that works for them and we see them doing fun everyday things with friends like play games, watch movies, build bonfires, etc. It ends with the message that people who identify as non binary look, dress, and sound all kinds of different ways and that gender is something everyone can decide for themselves at any moment in time.

I kind of wish that sometimes I was braver and less shy and awkward when meeting people. We drove out to Oakland on a rainy Saturday to go to the Turn the Page Book Fair just so I could meet Lourdes Rivas and buy copies of their book. I don’t remember how I came across They Call Me Mix, but several months ago I came across it on Instagram and started following them. So when I saw that Rivas was going to be at this (kind of) local book fair I geeked out, did a happy dance, and announced that we’d be hopping in the car and driving the two hours to go.

This is such a needed and necessary book. It starts by explaining how Rivas’ gender was assumed at birth and then how they were pushed into gendered expectations around dress, toys, appearance, and interests. They then go into how they don’t feel like the gender they were assumed to be. Some days they’re no gender, some days they’re everything in between. They do normal everyday things like hang out with friends and gender doesn’t have to define that. Then Rivas talks about becoming and educator and how they talk about what it means to be non binary with their students. They validate that kids can play with how they want to identify and try out words to describe themselves. Rivas themself uses Mx. instead of Mr., Mrs. or Ms. (hence the title of the book).

The illustrations are soft and plain. I’m a sucker for rainbows (a hold over from my Lisa Frank and My Little Pony days) so I loved the cover from the moment I saw it. At first I wondered about the choice to have simple black and white line drawings, but I quickly realized the brilliance of this because the only colors are pastel pink and blue which really serves to highlight that gender binary and tap that part of our brain that has been taught to see gender as only male/female. I was shocked when my own daughter was about three and said something about pink being only for girls, despite my being explicit about colors being for everyone. That association is strong and I think it serves the book well to have the illustrations really draw our attention to what is going on.

I think I sound like a broken record saying this, but this book NEEDS to be on your shelves, at home, in the library, and in the classroom. You NEED to be creating welcoming, inclusive, accepting spaces for children to be their whole selves and live their truths and to play with their identities. The reality is, you may be a child’s only space to do that. And you are teaching other children who have gender privilege to see how others may not fit a binary and be open and accepting of all the ways people can be in this world. It’s also validating for kids, like me, that identify as female (or male), but don’t fit the stereotype. Even I kind of felt like something was wrong with me growing up for not liking dresses or caring about pink and purple (my favorite color has always been orange) or painted nails. Sharing books like this in read alouds, having them on your shelves, and encouraging children to visit them again and again is a critical piece of doing the work of breaking down white supremacy (the gender binary is a facet of white supremacy).

The book is also in both English and Spanish. Woohoo! That makes the book that much more accessible to kids and families. If you have a Spanish language collection in your library, get two copies, one for both your English and Spanish language kids shelves.

The traditional publishing industry sure isn’t stepping up and offering #ownvoices works around gender (or race or religion or ability or…) and we can’t be waiting around for them to get with it. I say this because, again, I know indie books can be a hard sell to administrations and book buyers. Beyond your students, patrons, or children who need to feel seen, I also think you may have teachers who also need to feel supported and welcome and need a book like this to help kids (and parents) who haven’t been exposed to nonbinary folks open the conversation. Everyone, from children to adults, deserve to feel seen, supported, and loved and having books that represent them and their experiences can help with that.

For as much of a book nerd as I am, I freeze when I meet these authors and illustrators. I’m so star struck. I have met movie stars before, no big deal. But kidlit celebrities, I can’t formulate a thought to save my life. I totally froze when meeting Lourdes Rivas and I’m sure I was super awkward, even though I went specifically to meet them! If you see this, Lourdes, hi, sorry I was weird. I just have such a soft spot for books that embrace all children and people and I cannot express how brave I think it is that you are out there sharing your experience, how much I appreciate you doing it, and how excited I am to get these books into kids hands.

New to the idea of breaking through the gender binary with children? Check out these three blog posts from author, illustrator, and artist Maya Gonzalez. She links to a whole curriculum she has created (some of which I have reviewed here and here) to create loving and inclusive spaces.

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: How Mamas Love Their Babies by Juniper Fitzgerald

On 24, May 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

How Mamas Love Their BabiesHow Mamas Love Their Babies written by Juniper Fitzgerald, illustrated by Elise Peterson

From Goodreads: Illustrating different ways that mothers provide for their children—including dancing at a strip club—this children’s book is the first to depict a sex-worker parent. By introducing and normalizing the idea of bodily labor, it provides an expanded notion of working mothers overall, and challenges the idea that only some types of work result in good or appropriate parenting.

I already hear the arguments about not having this book on the kids shelves in libraries. And they’re all nonsense. Parents who work to provide for their kids deserve to be celebrated no matter how they do that. If you’re uncomfortable reading about a mother who dances to put food on the table and care for their children, you should look long and hard at your biases.

I loved the book because it celebrates mothers who work and mothers who stay home, and the myriad things mothers do to care for their children. There are pilots, farmers, house cleaners, artists, office workers, and dancers. Parents provide for their kids in the ways that they can and sex work is legitimate work. Entertainment is legitimate work. The book doesn’t get graphic about what a mother who dances all night might be doing or not doing making it an age-appropriate representation of the variety of jobs moms hold to put food on the table, shoes on their kids’ feet, and a roof over their heads.

It’s hard work being a parent (and a mom)* and I love that this book recognizes that and explains that it is because of this hard work that moms “helps their babies grow” and “helps their babies thrive”. There are plenty of books out there that present this syrupy, saccharine picture of motherhood. Books that glorify the self sacrificing that can come with motherhood. A picture that essentially upholds the white supremacy derivative patriarchy. I’m not saying some of those books haven’t hit me right in the feels, but they also feel kind of like they’re indoctrinating our boys to expect women to be nurturing and subservient and our girls to be those things. How Mamas Love Their Babies points out that being a mom is hard work and we do that hard work for the good of our children without making us seem like saints or like this is the only value we bring to the world.

I was also really drawn to this book for the illustrations. They’re this collage of vintage black and white photographs, many of which have been cut up and colored on, paper and that tomato soup colored texture you see in the background of the cover. I think the texture really ties it all together when it might feel a little all over the place. The photos are equal parts sweet and charming and real and, even better, they feature a variety of people- Black, brown, and White. I especially love the collages that incorporate women holding signs at protests/rallies. Signs that read “We need day care centers” and “Unfair to strippers”.

This is the book I want to be reading on Mother’s Day with my girls. And, you know what? It was. And I explained what a stripper was to my older daughter. And I personally felt validated by this book.

So, I know this book is going to be a hard sell in a lot of libraries. I know. Remember I quit my last job over a book about immigration and refugees. Sex workers are something that are even more taboo and stigmatized. That is also exactly why it needs to be on our shelves. Kids need books that celebrate mothers in this way and they need to see that all work mothers do is legitimate and good whether or not their moms dance all night in special shoes or go to the office from 9-5. If you work in a public library you won’t know what all your parents do for a living, so you may very well have sex workers with children in your population. Quite frankly the same is true in many school libraries too. To librarians in private school libraries, this is one of those times that you are going to have to stand up for representation. You can’t be fine with books that glorify settler colonialism, but not be okay with books that show the dignity of working parents regardless of their profession. Plus, how validating for those parents and children to finally see their families in a book.

*I’m a little torn using the term motherhood because I know not all mothers identify as female or as mothers, but the book has mother in the title, refers to mothers throughout the text, and uses pictures of people who present very female. I’m kind of going along with that…but I also recognize that might be leaving out other folks and I’m not quite sure how to incorporate that experience into a book that so specifically talks about mothers.

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: A Mother’s Wish by W. D. Lax

On 10, May 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

A Mother’s Wish written by W. D. Lax, illustrated by Juan Hernandez Jr.

From Goodreads: What’s A Mother’s Wish?  Providence summed it up in 3 John 1:2 when the apostle stated, “I wish above all things that you prosper and be in good health, even as your soul prospers.” This book is for praying mothers who only desire the best for their children.

I was fully expecting a book that was geared more toward parents. So often I think books about parental wishes and love tug on publishers’ heartstrings but don’t resonate with kids. They wax a bit poetic and can even be sappy and that’s not, at least in my experience, what kids are looking for. I fully admit to having a couple of those in my own personal collection and there’s nothing wrong with them, but they also tend to end up as standard gift fare for birthday parties, baby showers, and holidays.

A Mother’s Wish, however, felt different to me. First, it feels less like a lecture and more like a gentle reminder of how mother’s feel about their children. It’s earnest without being over-the-top mushy. Second, the language. It’s a prayer. It feels hushed and reverent. Certainly the mentions of God make it feel religious, but many people believe in a higher power without tying a specific religion to it. I could see memorizing pieces of this or reading it each night before bed to remind your children how much you love them. I could see this then being a comfort when mom is not available for bedtime. Prayerful, soothing words that convey the love and hope a mother often feels. The language is specific to the mother-son bond, but it could be altered if you wanted to make it work for a family with daughters. Don’t be afraid to change language when you read aloud- I’ve been doing this with pronouns recently to make books less tied to the gender binary.

I also really want to mention the illustrations. They are these lovely water colors of people. They match each stanza of the prayer nicely and the mix of skin tones and hair colors makes the book accessible to a variety families. Going back to the mother-son specific language, the pictures show a lot of children, and while I assume because of the language in the book they are boys, there is nothing that makes them male. Kids, if dressed in t-shirts and shorts, often don’t look like one gender or another. So the illustrations wouldn’t hinder you if you wanted to change up the language.

With Mother’s Day coming up, this would make a lovely read aloud in the classroom (although be cautious around this and be sure you include books about families that don’t have mothers too!) or library if you have religious audiences. It would be a beautiful addition to home collections and to library displays featuring families and mothers. If you have titles like On the Night You Were Born or I Wish You More, add this one as well.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy by the publisher, Melanin Origins, in exchange for an honest review.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

B Is for Brotherhood by Joa MacNalie

On 03, May 2019 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

B Is for Brotherhood written by Joa MacNalie, illustrated by Adua Hernandez

From Goodreads: Read along as best-selling author, Joa Macnalie of the Athletes and Activism series curates the conversation of police brutality/misconduct and the racial climate of our country. The lives of influencers such as Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid encourage children to use their voice in order to effect change, help children become critical consumers of media, and to stand for what they believe in, even in the midst of great adversity.

This book is lit, y’all. Every parent, every teacher, every librarian, every adult, every kid should own this book and be reading it. Reading it aloud; to themselves; in storytime; at bedtime; at school; in the library; EVERYWHERE. Get this book on your shelves NOW. Do not wait, run to Amazon or Indiebound or wherever you order your books online. Get. It.

Okay, it’s on its way to you? Perfect. Let’s talk about it. I have a handful of books that really, really look racism (of the systemic kind) in the face. There is a place for books showing Black and brown folks going about their lives, living their culture and generally being. There is a place for books that speak more to existential injustice that allow children (and their grown ups) to chew on meaty questions and ideas. But there is equally a place that calls out racism and speaks out against it. Truth to power, folks. B Is for Brotherhood is just that kind of book. It is a book we can share with our young readers to draw connections between news events and how they show us the racism that is in the waters of America.

The book starts with a look at Kaepernick and his protest of the national anthem, then draws in a handful of people who stood (or knelt) with him in his protest. We are introduced to the veteran who spoke with Kaepernick and encouraged him to kneel out of respect for veterans but still in protest of injustice for people of color in America. Then the book dives into the backlash to his protest. The racist comments by owners, fans, and commentators likening players to inmates and telling them to shut up and dribble.

Then Brotherhood says

” If racism ended a long time ago then riddle me this,

Why is there room for 954 hate groups to live on and persist?

Why can white men dress in white robes, light torches, and terrorize?

While colored folks are left to dispute the significance of their own lives.

Why indeed? No flinching there from the ugly fact that white people are still upholding white supremacy. That our president can say there were “good people on both sides” about a group of White terrorists that ran over peaceful anti-racist protestors. This book validates Black lives and the struggle for liberation. It is also imperative that White children hear these ideas and messages and Brotherhood does that too. Bias, racism, and white supremacy need the light shined on them so White folks can fight it within ourselves.

The book pivots from here to look more broadly at what Kap was/is protesting. MacNalie weaves in BBQ Becky, the two men arrested for sitting in Starbucks, H&M’s racist sweatshirt, EA Games, and other current events that have sparked an awaking for some, business as usual for others, and grabbed some amount of media attention. James Baldwin gets quoted and MacNalie says “If it’s still hard to see racism…take the veil off your face.” If that’s not a call to White folks to step up, see the world for what it is, and take action, I don’t know what is.

After looking at recent racist incidents, Brotherhood then turns back to Kap. This time by looking at both the fallout within the NFL and the many awards and recognitions Kaepernick has gotten including his campaign with Nike. Again, a few sentences are dedicated to examining the fallout specifically from that.

MacNalie ends with the powerful

It wasn’t about the bus when Rosa Parks sat and it’s not about the flag now.

Sixty years later Blacks still are not allowed.

Before you dispute our claims, know that privilege is meant to be unseen…”

Which of course takes Rosa Parks, a favorite story of White liberals, and reminds everyone that she wasn’t just a tired old lady at the end of her shift. Her act of resistance targeted a system, not just the ability to sit on a bus. And it was planned. Parks was a lifetime activist and she was chosen for this direct action. But the more things change, the more they stay the same. If we don’t recognize the system of privilege and white supremacy and actively choose to fight it, it’s not going anywhere.

This is such a powerful book. It can open so many conversations and breaks the silence on white supremacy. A silence that is intentional, as it up holds systemic racism. Teachers who want to be anti-racist should have this book proudly out on their shelves and should be proudly reading it to their students. Teachers of color have a book that upholds the validity and necessity of the struggle for liberation. Parents and librarians of the same stripes have this as well in B Is for Brotherhood. Get it on your shelves and then get it into your student’s hands.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy by the publisher, Melanin Origins, in exchange for an honest review.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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