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2020 March

21

Mar
2020

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Missing Daddy by Mariame Kaba

On 21, Mar 2020 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Missing Daddy written by Mariame Kaba, illustrated by bria royal

A little child with brown skin and short hair is holding a dandelion puff. They are blowing the seeds out over a scene of buildings and hills. The child wears an orange shirt. In the sky a a few fireflies and the moon.
Image description: A little child with brown skin and short hair is holding a dandelion puff. They are blowing the seeds out over a scene of buildings and hills. The child wears an orange shirt. In the sky a a few fireflies and the moon.

From Goodreads: A little girl who misses her father because he’s away in prison shares how his absence affects different parts of her life. Her greatest excitement is the days when she gets to visit her beloved father. With gorgeous illustrations throughout, this book illuminates the heartaches of dealing with missing a parent and shows that a little girl’s love can overcome her father’s incarceration.

Missing Daddy is one of those picture books where its simplicity belies its power. A little girl speaks about what it’s like having a parent in prison. Her grandmother helps out and her mom works hard. Good days are when she can visit her father and hug him. She has some support in the form of her teacher and adults she can share her thoughts and feelings with. But sometimes the kids at school tease her. She also has a half sibling that lives in DC that she wishes she could talk to more so they can talk about missing their dad. The text is rhymed and the final page shows the girl standing at the front of a classroom holding a piece of paper which I understood to mean the books is supposed to be a poem she’s written and is now sharing with her class.

There are a handful of picture books that deal with incarcerated parents (Visiting Day by Jacqueline Woodson, An Angel for Mariqua by Zetta Elliott, and Mama’s Nightingale by Edwidge Danticat all come to mind)*, but it’s not a commonly covered topic. And yet, there are 5 million children who have had a parent incarcerated at some point during their childhood. This is not a topic we can or should sweep under the rug. These children deserve to see themselves in the pages of picture books and need to see their feelings validated. If you don’t know Mariam Kaba, what are you doing with your life? Look her up. She does incredible prison abolition work and you need to have her work on your radar.

The illustrations are awesome. I love the color palate. I love the sketchy black outlines filled with blocks of color. It makes the book feel very modern and appealing. The line drawings of the people remind me of the posters and remembrances of people in the Black Lives Matter signs. It’s also incredible that the illustrator centers “black and brown imaginations of womxnhood, femininity and gender fluidity”. We need to be supporting artists like this and it’s not very common in traditional publishing.

For those of you using this in a classroom or with your children, there is a discussion guide in the back to help guide your conversations around the story. I know these conversations can seem hard, particularly if you are not used to having tough conversations about big topics like this and a discussion guide can help.

If you are a library or school with populations that experience incarceration this must be on your shelves. Honestly, you may not know if a family has someone incarcerated, so even if you think you don’t serve families with incarcerated folks, you might. But please also consider having this on your shelf if you don’t have kids with incarcerated parents. This is a topic everyone should be discussing with their kids- don’t let these families be invisible to yours just because you don’t have someone in prison. Knowing that some children have their families torn apart by the criminal (in)justice system and that it harms them will foster empathy in kids who are fortunate enough not to be experiencing it (and hopefully inspire them to fight the system).

You can purchase the book here on Amazon or directly from the publisher Haymarket Books. If you work with any organizations that do jail support where they offer coffee, snacks, and supplies to folks visiting jails and/or being released from jails, donate copies to have out for kids heading in to visit incarcerated family members.

*Interestingly, I realized all three of these books and Missing Daddy feature girls with incarcerated parents.

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16

Mar
2020

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Penelope Embraces Her Uniqueness by Katrina Hunt

On 16, Mar 2020 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Penelope Embraces Her Uniqueness written by Katrina Hunt, illustrated by Adua Hernandez

A purple book cover features a little girl with two hair poofs. She has her eyes closed and her arms wrapped around herself. She is wearing a bright yellow, sleeveless dress. She is being encircled by glowing musical notes. In the background is a baby grand piano.
Image description: A purple book cover features a little girl with two hair poofs. She has her eyes closed and her arms wrapped around herself. She is wearing a bright yellow, sleeveless dress. She is being encircled by glowing musical notes. In the background is a baby grand piano.

From Goodreads: Read along as author, Katrina Hunt, tells the story of a young girl named Penelope who has some struggles embracing all of the things that make her special/unique. Penelope eventually realizes that life is so much more than how she looks, but it’s her wonderful gifts and talents that make her one of a kind, too. Penelope Embraces Her Uniqueness inspires and encourages children to embrace who they are, and let their uniqueness shine through.

Penelope is having a hard time feeling like she’s different from everyone around her. She’s focused on how she looks different- her feet aren’t dainty, her skin is darker than the other girls, her hair is poofy. But one night she visits a fair and starts dancing at the music tent. She’s invited up on stage and discovers she is good at something. All the body criticism falls away and she realizes that it’s okay to be different and that she has had this talent and inner strength all along.

I think these types of books are especially wonderful in school and classroom libraries where there are groups of children who may end up comparing themselves to each other. This is something Penelope struggles with in the story. Not to mention the trend of working with children on their social and emotional intelligences in those venues. Penelope encourages children to find their gifts and talents and the special things that make them them.

I also think that, while every child can benefit from the positive message here, Black children (and a lot of children of color more broadly) will especially benefit from seeing a little girl who looks like them on the page. Traditional publishing still overwhelmingly centers white characters and this is true for those books that show quirky kids being accepted as they are. Librarians who serve populations with kids of color and Black children should be sure to have this on their shelves, especially if they also have books like Madeline, Lady Bug Girl, and Pippi Longstocking.

Adua Hernandez is always a strong illustrator. Her people are adorable and so much of her art features bright, friendly colors and patterns. It’s part manga, part cartoon. Penelope is hard on herself for her looks, but in reality she’s a sweet little girl with her hair in poofs, big brown eyes, and a yellow dress that pops against her brown skin. She also looks a lot like the author’s daughter who can be seen on the dedication page. As always the colors are bright and inviting and draw the reader into the page.

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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02

Mar
2020

In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Hermanito: Little Brother and Hermanita: Little Sister by Dr. Khalid White & Isela Garcia White

On 02, Mar 2020 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Hermanito: Little Brother written by Dr. Khalid White & Isela Garcia White, illustrated by Adua Hernandez

Hermanita: Little Sister written by Dr. Khalid White & Isela Garcia White, illustrated by Adua Hernandez

Cover of the book features a light yellow background with the title across the top. In the center is a pink and purple rug with the three siblings sitting on it.
Image description: Cover of the book features a light yellow background with the title across the top. In the center is a pink and purple rug with the three siblings sitting on it.

From Goodreads: Read along as Mateo and Amaya laugh, share, and play with their little brother, Santiago. Hermanito teaches children the values of teamwork, responsibility and love in an environment filled with positive imagery from a lovely Afro-Latinx family. The story is told in both English and in Spanish for bilingual readers and language learners.

From Goodreads: Read along as Ximena and Miguel laugh, share and play with their little sister, Ariana. While in play, the older siblings show Ariana the values of teamwork, responsibility and love as only a family can. The story is told in both English and in Spanish for bilingual readers and language learners.

I’m reviewing these two books together because they are written in the tradition of books like What Mommies Do Best/What Daddies Do Best by Laura Numeroff, The Brother Book/The Sister Book by Todd Parr, and various potty training books geared toward boys or girls, as you might be able to tell from the titles here. Depending on what sibling order you have in your family, you could choose either title.

A light pink cover features three siblings with various shades of brown skin sit on a brightly striped rug. On the baby's lap is an open book.
Image description: A light pink cover features three siblings with various shades of brown skin sit on a brightly striped rug. On the baby’s lap is an open book.

The illustrations in both books are superb. Hernandez has a knack for creating adorable children and in these two books we get a gaggle of them. She also always uses bright, friendly colors, textures, and settings that make her books very inviting especially to children.

The families appear to be mixed Latinx/Black families. They also have a range of skin tones including some darker skinned people (the mix is different in each book). It’s not common to see mixed families except when the book is specifically talking about diversity and usually the mixed family is Black and White. Of course there are Black folks who are also Latinx and these books could easily be representing them too. And of course there are Black families that are not mixed who have a variety of skin tones and again this book could be reflecting them, although there are a few details that make it seem more like the families have some Latinx roots.

I absolutely love that in each home there is a small alter for the Virgin Mary with candles and flowers. It’s just a small detail and the homes for the most part look very American (if suspiciously clean for having three kids in them!), but this is the type of detail that can mean the world to children who are seeing their homes and family traditions reflected on the page.

The story in each book is split into two sections, the first shows the parents making a meal for the family and, once seated at the table, they talk about how they expect the older siblings to show the youngest how to be responsible and take personal responsibility. The second half shows the siblings doing exactly this. They talk about helping out around the house, taking care of pets, and playing. I appreciate that there are a mix of activities for both the brother and sister that show them being active and helping around the house. This second portion of the text is done is a sing-song type of verse which make it easy for young readers to join in and read or repeat along:

“Little Sister, Little Sister. We love to make you dance. Little Sister. Little Sister. Go put on some pants!”

“Little Brother. Little Brother. Let’s all play with the ball. Little Brother. Little Brother. We won’t let you fall.”

These would make great books for older siblings to share with their pre- and emerging reader younger sibs. They could skip the first part if the child they are reading to is young and may not sit through the whole story.

The books are also translated into Spanish (another reason I think the family has some Latinx roots). If you are a librarian in a bilingual school either because your population speaks Spanish or because you are an emersion school, these would make great additions to your collection.

The end of each book has some blank pages with questions on them for readers to answer, such as what do you like to do with your family and how might you help them. I love when books have these spaces to have kids personalize the stories and really think about the ideas. I really appreciate that the author has asked children to write OR draw to answer the questions- a very important distinction to make for kids who might not yet be writing.

All in all, both of these are sweet books that would be wonderful additions to collections with other sibling books on the shelves (including home libraries).

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)

Hermanito:

Hermanita:

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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