[Image description: Illustration from Maiden & Princess by Daniel Haack, Isabel Galupo, and Becca Human. A young woman of color with large curly hair dressed in renaissance-style garb reluctantly being pushed by another woman toward a group of men.]
BEST IN KIDLIT July 2019
This is a quick link list for folks who like to click through and add these to reading lists. See below for a review of each book.
- Circle (Barnett)
- A Friend for Henry (Bailey)
- Weslandia (Fleishman)
- Turn This Book Into A Beehive! (Brunelle)
- Maiden & Princess (Haack)
- Betty Before X (Shabazz)
- The Conversation Train (Shaul)
- Findus Moves Out (Nordqvist)
Guess Again (barnett)
- Mango Moon (de Anda)
STORIES THAT MADE US LAUGH
Barnett’s books are subtly but powerfully anti-ageist. He gives kids space to wrestle with non-closure and leaves shadows for ‘what-ifs‘ and ‘maybes‘ to lurk. I love that he trusts kids to handle the discomfort and mental gymnastics of this. I
We all adore the shape trilogy, and were excited to get the latest Circle book. It’s delightful. While Square is still my favorite in the series, both kids laughed their freaking heads off for this one. Win.
Findus Moves Out (Nordqvist)
As always, the Findus & Pettson series are adorable and charming and make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. This one is particularly validating for me as a parent. I’m in such a rush for my kids to grow up and leave me alone. So it’s nice to have a reminder that when they finally do start to venture outside the nest, I’m going to miss these days. Overall though, I love Pettson’s calm, quiet, and patient parenting.
We’ve loved this book for years, but R2 is suddenly able to sit still through these books alongside his brother, now that they just hit their 5th & 7th birthdays. It’s utter heaven. This entire series is worth owning and holding onto to read with grandkids, and we’re slowly building up our library every birthday, crossing our fingers that their uncle will buy us copies 😉
Guess Again (barnett)
Oh right, while we are on the subject of Mac Barnett, check out ‘Guess Again’ from the library. It’s just a silly, ridiculous book worth reading a few times. The humor is probably not for everyone, but I dunno, something about it makes me and the kids laugh. It’s just so ridiculously silly and goofy. We first got it when R2 was about 3.5 years old, and it’s still funny.
The only downside is that the flaps are so weak. But we all enjoy taking turns playing the ignorant one who isn’t aware of the punchline. Get it while the kids are young, before they hit the cynical age, while they still like to tell the same joke over and over and that just makes it funnier.
STORIES THAT GAVE US HOPE
Turn This Book Into A Beehive! (Brunelle)
I didn’t test this one out with my kids – just screened it. It’s so jam-packed with awesome stuff, and it’s intended to be deconstructed, that I sent it back to the library and put it on the kids’ wishlists, because it’d make an amazing gift.
Be warned – half the book is just paper, meant to be ripped out and formed into tubes. Lots of Amazon reviewers are pissed off by this, but what they don’t realize is that this is special bee-friendly paper that won’t hurt the bees. AND this kind of hive is much safer than junky ones you’ll pick up at Wal-Mart, as improperly built & kept mason bee hives often do more harm than good, luring bees into laying larvae in homes where they can’t survive, and creating a breeding ground for bee-predators and bee-killing disease. So get this book instead!
Maiden & Princess (Haack)
I am a little biased because the protagonist in this story looks EXACTLY LIKE ME and whoooo am I excited to see a stubby-legged-, wild-haired Asian-presenting person in kidlit! Uhura test – normalizing girls of color win!
Beyond that – okay, the story is a bit thin and kind of lacks oomph. HOWEVER, it’s nice to see a book that destigmatizes/validates lesbian relationships. There are a decent number of stories focusing on gay men (such as the brother book to this one – Prince and Knight) but this is the first decent one focusing on lesbians without centering them as mothers. It’s pretty popular now to include LGBTQ+ parents but not protagonists – if that makes sense.
Princess Li is another book that centers lesbians but oof there’s some orientalism in there that I’m not wild about, so this is way better. In terms of #Ownvoices, Galupo identifies as LGBTQ. Human identifies an activist, has mental health conditions and is a black femme(?) from London. (Also, I double checked, Becca Human is not Erin Human’s cousin Becca Human. Different people. That would have been cool though!).
Betty Before X (Shabazz)
This one is a chapter book, and it’s juuust over the head of Q at age 7, so I’m holding onto it for when he enters the independent-reader-devours-books stage. I Looooove that Shabazz not only centers her mother’s story, but focuses on her completely independently of Malcolm, who traditionally overshadows all of her accomplishments.
This book gives us not only a destigmatizing and validating background for kids raised by kinship and adoptive guardians, but it also touches gently on those hints – seeds of what Betty learns from her mother about doing the small, local activist work it takes to make unglamorous and powerful change. When the book ends, it doesn’t end. Like, it opens a whole new beginning. If that makes sense. Also – #ownVoices, since this is written by Betty’s daughter. Damn, it’s so good.
STORIES I’VE BEEN SEARCHING FOR
A Friend for Henry (Bailey)
Similar to the spectacular Benji, The Bad Day, and Me, this is another book that seeks to destigmatize and blur the us/them binary between allistic and autistic kids. In keeping with that same idea – both my allistic and autistic kids identified with the main character, despite the fact that the protagonist is autistic.
For my autistic kid, it was helpful to validate the frustration he feels when kids don’t play what he considers *the right way* and gives us space to talk about what it looks like to an outsider when his reaction to doing something as simple as sitting on a carpet square is way out of proportion.
For my allistic kid, he saw that the social frustrations his brother goes through are a normal thing that everyone goes through – with the difference that it’s a disability that has long-term impacts, and it’s something we can’t just get over – nor can we apply the lessons we learn from social conflicts globally. Which is hard!
This was delightful. I do wish the book had a bit more clarity, perhaps a running plotline to keep kids engaged. It’s really written for much younger kids in daycare and preschool, and this portrayal of autism is for kids who likely wouldn’t be diagnosed until elementary school. So it could have used a bit of polishing and adjusting to be more effective.
Either way, it’s nice. It’s also nice to see an autistic boy of color (he presents as east asian), with an #OwnVoices AAPI asian-american illustrator. I love that it centers on an autistic character instead of a friend or sibling. Aside even from the focus on autism, this kind of book can be used to help kids empathize and understand the perspective of friends and classmates, particularly, as I said, for the under-4 crowd.
I put off reading this book for years. It’s just not a high priority to read books featuring white boys on the cover (re: almost all books) and I was not looking forward to see what kind of colonizer nonsense was going on with him looking like he’s appropriating some agriculture-based civilization.
Okay also an aside – you know how everyone is always hung up on the fact that there are more books featuring boys and white kids than girls/nonbinary kids of color? I mean – it’s technically true. But what no one addresses is that there are almost no books featuring white boys that are actually good.
I’m serious. This has been a challenge. 99.99% of the great books I love center girls, and of that, like 80% of them center girls of color. (These are rough estimates, don’t quote me). It’s like anyone with the sense to write a decent story worth reading also has the sense to buck the last generation’s trend of centering white boys.
Anyhoo – what happens is, it’s remarkably hard to find a decent book starring a white boy. Even though MOST BOOKS center white boys. I’m not sure if irony is the word, so much as tendency to not be oblivious on the park of makers.
So back to this book – it’s surprisingly great. There are a few ‘erm’ moments – like the kids wearing mohaws, the casual and simplistic view of bullies, all standard oversimplifications for 2002-era books written by white dudes.
HOWEVER. He’s not appropriating anyone’s culture – Wes is making his own. And it’s actually a neat book that touches on how civilizations are formed using the resources available, particularly with respect to available, native plants that naturally thrive in the local climate. It fits in surprisingly well with our environmentalism theme. Also the kids enjoyed it.
The Conversation Train (Shaul)
This is SO GREAT. I, as a grown-ass adult, learned how to have a conversation without pissing people off.
This book answered mysteries for me – like why TF people ask “How are you?” when they don’t really want to know. (Hint: It’s code for “Please cease what you are paying attention to, and direct your focus to an interaction I want to have with you. This is your last chance to back out of an interaction with me before you’re stuck in it.”)
It also helped us break down why exactly infodumping is so off-putting to allistics, how derailing is perceived as anti-social, and basically how to have a conversation with an allistic person without pissing them off.
I tried to read this to the kids before, but age 7 seems to be the sweet spot. You can skip it if your kid is allistic, but if you’re an autistic adult or have an autistic kid, check it out. For most of us adult autistics, we’ve developed scripts for the multitude of interactions we get stuck in during daily life, and this is a great template to help younger autistics create foundation scripts and work with unscripted conversations on the fly.
Mango Moon (de Anda)
I included this in this month’s Immigrants Belong Here collection, but I’d like to highlight this one, which we just happened to find in time to form the Decolonizing Childhood Coalition and companion booklist.
This was a GREAT intro book to deportation and the challenges of living while undocumented. Another great one is La Frontera, and for refugees, The Journey and Lost and Found Cat (not to be confused with the other book about Kunkush, which is white-savior rubbish.) These were the four books that really hit my kids in the heart, and inspired them to get off their butts and donate/fund-raise/advocate for immigrant rights & refugee relief.