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February 2020 Good Finds

via Ashia

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About February’s Good Finds

This month we caught up on topics relating to Black history & Black futures, so these were mostly a break from some draining conversations about racism and to counter the idea that only Black girls can be astronauts and other fantastic things. The pendulum on representation over here at Bumblebee Hollow swings so far against kidlit norms my white-presenting boys are starting to feel like they don’t have enough positive reflections of themselves in books.

We’re also still researching books about older adults, which as a general group, are terribly bland and boring. Not because older adults are bland and boring – but because most makers depict them that way. Ageism!

So we needed to add some funny ones in to give us a break.

  • Age-reference: unless otherwise specified, these books were a hit for Q (age 7.5), R2 (age 5.5)
  • Affiliate links: This post contains affiliate links. Check out the full affiliate disclosure along with the BFL statement of accountability. When possible, I’m using Bookshop.org affiliate links, but since they’re still in beta, I’ll use Amazon affiliate links for stuff they don’t carry yet.
  • If you run into glitches or bugs on Bookshop, contact info@bookshop.org (I can’t do anything about those). If you find glitches here – leave a comment below.

Quick list:

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.


Good Books:

Books we’ve been searching for

  • Serena, The Littlest Sister: I’ve been searching for a great book about the Williams sisters (so many bland duds) and FINALLY this showed up. It worked spectacularly well for a challenge R2)age 5.5) is currently wrestling with as the littlest kid in the house and also as a kindergartner in the littest grade in his elementary school. I’ve been collating a list of books to help with frustrations over feeling small & powerless, and this fits in nicely while also refusing to ignore the fact that there are MORE THAN TWO Williams sisters – and they are all valuable and important.
  • The Truth About Wind – Wonderful, great for unpacking feelings of guilt, could be a good intro for teaching kids about decolonization from the decendant of colonizers or settler perspective. This gave us the opportunity to disciss how we are complicit in another person’s pain – benefiting from taking something left behind (with the strong caveat that colonization wasn’t indigenous people losing and and us finding it – this land was intentionally and violently stolen.) More of – we inherited something that we love, and now the realization that no matter how much we love it, now it’s tainted with the pain of knowing that it belongs to someone else – someone who deserves it back. And we’re enjoying it at the expense of their suffering. So this book is fantastic to help kids discuss the complicated feelings of that. Disclosure: I got a copy of this free from Annick press. And I’m sure this is biased but the books I get from Annick Press are my absolute favorites. Not everything is a hit for us, but generally the books they make are SO SOLID and ahead of the curve.
  • The Good Dog And The Bad Cat – This feels like it was written in another language and was awkwardly translated. Turns out it was written by the founder of Blues Clues. Beyond that, the simple story gives us an opportunity to discuss static versus fixed identities. How the actions and people we see as ‘bad’ are often just people trying to get by with what they can. I love this book, and it was spectacular to read slowly and discuss with the 5.5yo when he’s hitting a new peak of seeing other people as attacking him just for accidentally bumping into them.

Books that made us laugh

  • A Sick Day for Amos McGee  – This is a cheat, because I recommended this several years ago. I pulled it out recently because everyone in the house was home sick with the flu for a really long time and we were all feeling bored, restless, and cramped. But gosh – this really holds up over the years. Not only do we have an older man whose life doesn’t revolve around children (rare in kidlit) but he’s kind and sweet and the relationships in this are super supportive and adorable.
  • Special Delivery – As the kids get older and want to do their own thing, we have less time for stories these days. But light, fluffy, goofy books like this, they always make time for. It was funny years ago, and it’s still funny now. I wouldn’t get this as a ‘keeper’ book – it wears out after a handful of reads. But like 1/2 to 1 sentence per page, so might be good for an emerging reader. While this doesn’t quite fit into a collection on intergenerational relationships, many of the people the young girl protagonist encounters are older gray-haired adults with careers and lives of their own (ice cream truck drivers, postal workers, airplane mechanics) which is a refreshing, since many older adults are simply missing in kidlit unless they’re doddering grandparents.

Books that gave us hope:

  • Henry And The Kite Dragon – This book is SO GOOD. I’ve been waiting for the Earthquakes to be old enough for this book – and now at 7.5 this was PERFECT. This has been the single most resonant book discussing cultural conflict and humility for us so far. Because we so strongly identified with the Chinese characters (we even share a family name with the author) the book’s revelation was particularly shaking for Q. And then he had all these FEELINGS realizing how the Italian kids were not evil nazis – they were scared and upset. SO GOOD. After reading this book, we naturally moved onto a discussion on politics, conservatives, and abortion. This book was also a great post-age-of-reason illustration on how much progress he’s made and how many exciting developments he can look forward to, brain-wise. When he suggested I read this to kids just entering kindergarten, I explained how at 5, he wasn’t ready to understand that other people know and don’t know things different than him, and that I’ve had to wait until this moment to read it to him for him to fully comprehend the complexity. I LOVE THIS BOOK SO HARD. AAPI makers
    • My favorite moment during this discussion: when I explained how Mitt Romney tried to convince our family to let grammy die and he was like loud and exasperated and shocked: “BUT IT WAS HER BODY!!” But also – since Romney’s anti-choice convictions are founded in something hopeful and kind. He’s not some distant evil dictator, but a member of his family’s community – sometimes good at pushing back against 45 – people are complicated and not just good or bad.
  • Mattland (hutchins) – R2 (5.5) likes reading the protagonist as himself. He’s taken to doing this with all East Asian & white male-presenting characters. I think it’s because we can find so few positive, kind, and gentle depictions of white and East Asian boys. The scene of hte is intentionally vague, but it’s almost as if this kid is moving into a place rebuilding after a natural disaster – seemingly cold and empty . There is a ton of detritus and things in construction, just mud, very little things green, and he starts out lonely and sad. By starting with one little line, he’s able to engage with the land and gain a sense of control and power. Even though the space felt desolate and empty, his work draws other kids out from their houses and they all work together. Which feels all very meta for the work we’re doing in Raising Luminaries – are you feeling this? Great for collective action and leadership. I thought this would be too slow and underwhelming but R2 read it over and over for weeks. Also would work for a list for creative play and unschooling.
  • Tiger Versus Nightmare – I’m searching for age-appropraite graphic novels, which are usually targeted at kids 9+, so we’re in a kind of dead zone (makers pay attention, there is an audience waiting for you here!). It’s simple, like our favorite The Little Robot, and sooo cute. How we can stand up to our own nightmares and don’t need someone else to do it for us (and shouldn’t leave someone else to do it for us). Dealing with fear. Protagonist (Tiger) uses she/her pronouns.

Bonus: What I’m reading this month:

  • The Weight of our sky – Oh. My Gosh. I’ve never read anything like this. We go into this more deeply in the book club discussion in the Luminary Brain Trust. It’s way too violent for younger kids, but I’m so, so, so grateful for this resource to unpack and understand our own family’s history as Chinese diaspora in Malaysia, and how our own lives and family are impacted by the events in this story. The author ran through this spectacularly – and while I’m still waiting to hear back on how her depiction of OCD went, as a person with a compulsion disorder, it felt respectful and validating, even if there was this one moment of a made-for-movie-climax (The Hate U Give had a LOT of that, which I found irksome, so comparatively this felt less performative). Keywords so I can find the later: #OwnVoices Muslim authors, YA chapter books, violence, malaysian history, south asian history, revolt, riots, race wars, racism, assimilation, Chinese history, labor rights.
  • Parenting ForwardTook me a while to finally get my hands on this! Disclosure: Cindy WB is a patreon supporter (because she is awwwesommme) and she interviewed me for a podcast episode last year and invited me to speak at the first Parenting Forward Conference (affiliate link, for funzies!). SO maybe I am biased, but I’m just loving this book. I’m like 1/4 the way in. It’s a short read, but dense with good stuff to chew on. And I’m also scatterbrained. Touching on deconstructing harmful traditions and mindsets that we were handed as children, on parenting without anti-child bias, empowering our kids in the quest to fight childism, and that’s just the stuff I’ve read so far. Cindy’s audience is mainly progressive Christian, but as an agnostic, I promise this book is more than helpful for the rest of us, as it speaks to the human condition, not just for those of faith.
  • The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers – The writing in this is better than other books about Fred Rogers (some of them I just couldn’t even finish) but it is still very fact-fact-fact-fact-fact. So it’s easy to read, but hard to pick back up again once you’ve put it down. If that makes sense. I’m about halfway through. It’s been a wonderful thought exercise on – how do we raise rich white men to be decent, kind humans? This really gives me hope. In reading about his early years, I’m thinking of how I can re-create the work Rogers’ grandparents and parents did to create such a nurturing, loving environment. But with less limousines and “benevolent” capitalism (re: donations and generosity at the whims of one particular family, which is super problematic and kind of re-creates a monarchy). The book celebrates the Rogers’ benevolent capitalism without unpacking the many problems with it. So perhaps that’s a discussion we need to add to our Wealth Inequality series.
  • Operating Instructions This made me feel better about my failures as a mother. Although that ending. Sheesh. I knew it was coming (maybe not in this book, but it was coming) but it still broke my heart. Crying just thinking about it. Beyond that – I wish I had this book in that first year of parenting. Just before this, I had read ‘Almost Everything‘ in my research on drug addiction and listening to #OwnVoices older adults. It felt a little bland and like “Okay yes, it took you this long to figure these things out?” so I wanted to give Lamott’s work another try, and I’m glad I did. Maybe it’s because at my age, I’m more similar to Lamott at her ‘Operating instructions’ age than the age she is now. So my underwhelm with ‘Almost Everything’ might just be my youthful ignorance. I dunno. Either way, it was interesting to see the juxtaposition of – after many things happened in her life, and then before. The pain and fear of parenting an adult son with an addiction, and then zooming way back to those first moments of him as an infant.

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