[Image description: Interior page from ‘Sumo Joe’ by Mia Wenjen and Nat Iwata of Lee & Low Books]
These good finds are our favorites this month, tested by: The Little Earthquakes (LE) – Boss In Charge Of Everybody’s Business Q (age 7) & Custard-Filled R2 Bao, (age 5)
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.
- Sumo Joe (Wenjen)
- Pie In The Sky (Lai)
- Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild (Fox)
- When Aidan Became A Brother (Lukoff)
- Ogilvy (Underwood)
- Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup (Mayer)
- I Wasn’t Invited To The Party (Isern)
- Grandpa’s Stories (Coelho)
- Jacob’s Room To Choose (Hoffman)
- Where Are You From? (Méndez)
STORIES THAT MADE US LAUGH
Sumo Joe (Wenjen)
I first cracked this book hopeful, but nervous. Thank goodness it was awesome.
The Earthquakes would Not. Let. Me. Return this. We read it for weeks and weeks and they laughed every single time. It’s not a particularly long or adventurous story. I thought maybe it’d be too simple for more than a read or two, but nope – the Earthquakes LOVE THIS. Maybe the adorable illustrations, or the surprise ending (which was not a surprise by the second read, but kids are fun like that.)
Mia Wenjen, the author, runs a blog called Pragmatic Mom, which I stumbled on when BFL was just a small group for local parents. Like me, she’s a parent (but her kids are way older), she’s AAPI multiracial (Japanese & Chinese), she nerds out about kidlit, and she lives in my town.
When I found out about her, I was so excited to meet someone who had the same interests so close by! She reluctantly joined BFL and has benevolently ignored me ever since. She’s also the co-founder of #MultiCulturalChildrensBookDay, which I participated in once, and it was suuuuper awkward – my first honest (and negative) review of a problematic book.
Anyway – like I kind of want her to like me? And am nervous that she might hate me? I don’t read her blog (I don’t read any kidlit critics blogs except for AICL & De Colores). It’s tough to not feel overwhelmed since she’s much better at a lot of things than I am (like networking, and having a real job while also running her website, leaving the house – and it looks like she doesn’t cut her own hair). Lady has her shit together.
Anyway, although we share similar values in the importance of representation, we don’t share entirely the same values and often disagree on which books are worth reading or not. I defer to her in all things Japanese though.
SO if this book sucked, that was going to be suuuper awkward. But it doesn’t suck! It’s ADORABLE. Q is a reluctant reader but he was eager to take this one on. It provoked the Earthquakes to ask just the right questions, and then gave us info to discuss the answers in the end notes. Why are two people wrapping the mawashi? Why won’t they let the girl in? How can a smaller person beat a larger person in martial arts?
I also have to admit a bit of a thrill when I find another multiracial Asian maker (I’m still making a collection!) – and Iwata, although I can’t confirm this, looks a lot like me. TWO multiracial Asian makers on one book! YES, REPRESENT!
Oh also the book hits bingo points for so many things I’ve been searching for – positive representation for kind & gentle boys of color (SQUEE!), adipositivity, healthy sibling relationships, male accomplices against sexism, gracious losers, and of course, normalizing Asian Americans.
Pie In The Sky (Lai) Ages 7+
I’ve been ‘reading ahead’ as many chapter books as I can stuff into my brain before Q flips that switch into a voracious independent reader. So while I haven’t tested this with the kids yet, I am SO, SO, SO VERY EXCITED to give this to them when they want to cozy up alone with a book.
Friends – oh my gosh. Just thinking about this book makes me tear up. It is seriously so freaking loving, and vulnerable, and funny, and aaaaahhhhhh I CANNOT TAKE ALL THESE FEELS.
And the tasty pastries. How we perceive white food versus Asian food and internalize white supremacy, but also how that is bullshit. Goodness.
Aaaand this is an #OwnVoices Asian Australian author – born in Indonesia, grew up in Singapore, now lives in Australia.
Centering immigrants,and kids who are learning English as a second language, again with normalizing kind and gentle Asian boys. Also reconciling grief, death, and that weird stage when kids start to separate from parents and recognize that parents are doing emotional labor and have limited capacity…OH MY GOSH. GO READ IT!
This is an old book, but we took forever to get to it since I’m generally not that into Mem Fox. I’m glad we caught this on the tail end of the preschool years, while our life is still full of spills and messes and me occasionally losing my patience. Parenting is hard work, but we’re not alone, and we’re doing our best. It’s nice to be reminded that these frustrating parts aren’t the obstacles we get through to get to the ‘life with our kids’ part, they are the life with our kids, and it doesn’t have to go smoothly to be good.
Okay, honestly this is mostly for parents. That it’s okay to screw up. That we can use this as an opportunity to show our kids that everyone makes mistakes, how to apologize, and how to be more patient with our kids. How kids do well if they can but little kids just haven’t gotten control of their brains and bodies yet.
But also R2 (age 5) just laughs and laughs and laughs when we read this.
STORIES THAT GAVE US HOPE
When Aidan Became A Brother (Lukoff)
So remember a bit ago when I said I get a little thrill when I find a multiracial Asian maker? You know what is even more thrilling? Multiracial Asians who are not white. Because while we are great and all, the entire conversation tends to center around our proximity to whiteness, and frankly as a multiracial-whiteish person I am sick of it.
Enter Kaylani Juanita – who I found when researching Black women, femme & nonbinary makers. AND THIS IS A NEW SIBLING BOOK ABOUT NONBINARY BABIES CENTERED ON A TRANS BROTHER.
It’s like this book was made for BFL, and BFL was made for this book. Written by an #OwnVoices LGBTQI+ (trans) author!!! I’m still just learning how and what #BrownBoyJoy looks like – but whatever it is, this is definitely a keeper for that rallying cry.
I was so excited to find this months ago, but uuugggggh it took so long for this book to come out! I put a hold on the first copy once it came out and our library got ahold of it. The anticipation was agony.
And then JUST BEFORE my hold finally showed up, Little Feminist Book Club (that’s an affiliate link) sent me a review copy to see if it would be a good fit for a book box (oh my gosh, it SO is). It’s so freaking adorable. Even if your kids aren’t awaiting the arrival of a new sibling, this book. GOSH. The sweetness!!!!!
BFL member Kari MK suggested this book when we came out with our nonbinary collection, so I got it right away and the Earthquakes fell in love with it. Standard for Underwood, it’s a challenging read aloud (say ‘Ogilvy 20 times before bed without any coffee in your system) but gets fun as we mastered it.
So here is the cool thing that we could miss unless we know to look for it – Ogilvy doesn’t use pronouns. That is a thing many trans and nonbinary people do, but it’s always vague. The author takes pain to use Ogilvy and only Ogilvy, normalizing the practice of renouncing pronouns entirely. I’ve previously only only seen this in books by Reflection Press.
I particularly loved that the gender-bully was a girl. So many books insist on making boys bullies, when in our experience, it’s the girls who have led the pack on picking on our gender-creative kids. This was super validating for the Earthquakes, and also it’s adorable and has bunnies. So.
STORIES I’VE BEEN SEARCHING FOR
Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup (Mayer)
Did I mention this one yet? I included it in the Food Shaming & Orientalism collection, but it deserves to be highlighted on its own. It’s kind of goofy and okay – not very exciting. But I love how the metaphor of soup with the similarities and differences between her Jewish grandmother’s kreplach and her Chinese grandmother’s wontons helped the character reconcile her multiracial identity as not neither, but both.
Or maybe I just love it because wontons. Which to me, represent so much – love, comfort, safety, and connection to my grandmother, who made officially the best wontons in the world. Direct quote from my grandma, as the very first thing she’d say to me every single time I entered her apartment “Too skinny! Need more wonton!” (*translation: I love you. Let me take care of you.)
I so wish I could have read this book together with her.
I Wasn’t Invited To The Party (Isern)
We started reading this before school ended to help the kids reconcile that they wouldn’t be doing all the fun and exciting things their wealthy classmates were up to this summer.
It’s kind of surreal and a little floaty, not our usual thing. But they loved it. Honestly I don’t even know what they loved about it, but they wanted to read it over and over. I think it’s the fantasticalness of it. Bonus points for a lack of closure that pisses off childist reviewers, and double-extra bonus points for accepting a child’s saddness without trying to fix them or tell them to buck up.
I’m a very concrete parent, and okay – a boring paren. I think we need to incorporate more magic in our bedtime stories. This was a good reminder of that.
Also – a good reminder that instead of focusing on the FOMO we get from social media, enviable vacation stories, and missed birthday invites, we can concentrate on doing something else great and make our own adventures.
Grandpa’s Stories (Coelho)
Multiracial family – check. (The main character is only 1/4 white! I HAVE NEVER IN MY LIFE SEEN THIS IN A BOOK!) Grampa looks maybe Asian Indian (which makes mom multiracial white/Asian), and dad could be Southeast Asian or Black.
Death positivity – check. Helping my kids process grief over a dead grandparent – check.
Gorgeous illustrations – check.
Featuring an involved, competent father (well, grandfather) figure – check
Normalizing kind and gentle men of color – check.
Jacob’s Room To Choose (Hoffman)
Years ago, Q loved the first in this series. Jacob’s New Dress actually inspired him to give a convincing argument about breaking gender boundaries to make life safer for his classmates (he was trying to convince me to give him money for a kickass batgirl dress. He won me over with that.)
This one is a little boring – but important. No other kid’s book touches on how scary going to the bathroom is, how something cis kids take for granted can be so loaded and stressful. And I LOVE the solution that the kids and teacher come up with. Particularly lines that decenter cisgender transphobia and center the safety of trans (and all) kids. This is the kidlit companion for #IllGoWithYou.
“If you’re in the bathroom and you see a kid who doesn’t look like you — leave them alone.”
And don’t think I missed the background, normalizing kids with disabilities and Little People (do I capitalize the P in that? Google won’t tell me.) Next up – giving these kids speaking and starring roles!
Where Are You From? (Méndez)
I wanted this book to be more but as is, it’s still great.
As someone constantly challenged by strangers asking “WHAT ARE YOU?” and “WHERE ARE YOU FROM? NO – WHERE ARE YOU REALLY FROM?!” this feels vaaaaalidating AF.
That said, the story itself was confusing. They showed all these lovely places and hinted at spots of cultural significance, but with just enough info to have not much meaning to folks who aren’t intricately tied to these places.
Googling “the warm, blue oceans the copper warriors tried to tame.” is kind of a mystery treasure hunt I just don’t have time for. I know the author is referencing something but I have no clue what.
Which is okay! But it was weird, having to take the book for an hour on my own trying to decipher hints and google visual clues. I sure could have used some end-notes or something because the kids had questions. By the time I managed to look all these places up, it was time to return the book to the library, and the kids had lost interest due to lack of story.
So anyway – this still makes the good finds list because this kind of book has never been. It makes me as a multiracial person feel seen.
Meanwhile – if you plan to read this book, first, do some research on: pampas, gaucho, brown river, , Señor Cielo, condor & jaguar mountain, copper warriors & ocean, tiny frog & island people, home for all, chains because of skin color (presumably slavery in the Americas?), grandmothers searching for grandchildren in a plaza with white handkerchiefs, monument with 25Mayo1810 (May Revolution, Buenos Aires) latinx, Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. clues, “song sung under the southern cross” references a southern constellation & north star “or the words in a book written under the light of the north star” (no idea what book). Mendez is a Latinx US immigrant born in Argentina. Kim is AAPI born in South Korea.