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April 2020 Good Finds

via Ashia

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About April’s Good Finds

  • Access: Usually Good Finds posts are unlocked for Collaborator+ patreon supporters. But during the Covid 19  shutdowns, I’m unlocking all bonus & sneak-peek content for folks who no longer have access to schools and libraries.
  • Supporting interdependence: The shutdown is impacting our contributions, as many of our supporters are losing their income and I’m offering refunds for previous supporters to help them. So if you are not financially impacted by the shutdowns and have been meaning to support my work, I would super appreciate a $5 contribution starting around now. You can support the stuff I’m providing for you on patreon.
  • Age-reference: Usually these are recent finds that my 5.5& 7.5 are loving, but since we no longer have access to the library, I’m reaching into older notes. So I’ll specify the ages when they were a hit.
  • 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.
  • More Good Finds: For the full archives, you can find those here: All Good Finds Posts

Quick list

For folks who want to quickly cut & paste to create a reading list:

Picture books for kids:

Bonus: For older kids, teens & grown-ups:


Let’s unpack some books!


Books we’ve been searching for

An’s Seed

Remember just a few months ago before the world turned into a zombie apocalypse movie when we were focusing on seasonality and demolition to counter toxic capitalism and topple the kyriarchy?

This book is good for that. None of us saw the ending coming – which was a delightful surprise and it kind of forced us to reconcile the assumptions we make about the ‘right’ kind of work.

Which is to say – the American GO GO GO GO with a moral preference for hustle and busywork, even at the expense of good sense and the final outcome. The story isn’t just about working smart and patience – it’s about taking time to think and having some humility instead of forcing things. It was a nice introduction to Taoism – showing kids the difference between sloth and patience.

As a person who feels perpetually behind and overwhelmed, chomping at the bit to make good change while irritated at myself for not moving faster and doing more – I found this story reassuring and comforting.

The things that feel impossible now will be much easier if we wait for the right time and be patient. After several reads, we realized that An wasn’t being idle. He spent his downtime caring for others, carrying out his daily chores, and paying attention to the seasons – the larger picture of what needed caring for right now, for the good of everyone. Mindful and considerate of his community rather than just focusing on his own individual advancement.

Ages 5+. It’s also bilingual (Chinese & Pinyin guide, with English translations at the end).

Pretty Salma

This is the best book I’ve found so far to arm kids against coercion, grooming, and persuasion tactics. Since we unpacked it briefly in our LBT zoom chat in March, I went ahead and wrote out how I discussed this with the Little Earthquakes at 5.5 & 7.5.

I worked really well. My kids got it. Check out the full Pretty Salma guide & analysis here.

Seriously though click through to that, because it’s a VERY thorough resource that unpacks a load of coercion tacics and how to watch out for them.

Salma the Syrian Chef

Oh this covers so much I can’t even explain it all. It’s just lovely and wonderful and almost subversive in the way the story stigmatizes, normalizes, and celebrates the ways we come together to heal.

I’m reminded of Q’s favorite book – Joseph’s Big Ride, like Salma – a refugee who acknowledges their status and has to deal with some age-appropriate challenges because of it – but their status as displaced doesn’t define them.

Best for 6.5+, it was a chore to pull the 5.5yo through. I suspect it will get better with time, as there are many different layers to unpack. Disclosure: Annick Press sent me a free review copy (seriously they make consistently knock it out of the park.)

M is for Melanin

I’ve been slowly plowing the sub-genre of body positivity books that help Black kids feel pride in their skin bodies, and it’s been a mixed bag.

Breaking it down roughly:

    • 90’s “we’re all the same” (colorblind fallacy) books
    • The 00’s “Be Black but only the good kind”  (Black excellence model minority) books
    • And the 10’s “Chocolate Me” (reducing BIPOC as food, as if it objectifying people makes dark skin more palatable).

Obviously all of these are a bit problematic, slapping a band-aid on racism instead of digging at the root of white supremacy – physical and cultural whiteness as the ideal, with everything else as a white-aspiring ‘other.’

But authors have been making slow and steady progress. M is for Melanin is a big leap – a validating alphabet book for Black kids (Not for us white & non-black POC, not everything has to be for us.) that accepts and celebrates a wide spectrum of Blackness.

It’s so lovely! Encouraging kids to be proud of the things that make them not just physically but also culturally Black, without excluding Black folks with very pale skin, blonde hair, vitiligo, and albinism or those who have been trans-racially adopted by non-Black parents.

As a non-black POC, I hesitate to say whether a book qualifies for #BlackGirlMagic or #BrownBoyJoy, but this book does feature unapologetic pro-Blackness, body positivity, and the celebration of Black Futures. Not to mention a multitude of  hair textures – we  even see kids with alopecia – which let me tell you, is rare.

I want something like this for Asian kids SO MUCH! But aside from the genius of Allen Say, I don’t expect to see inclusion from the white-supremacy based blood-purity exclusion of multiracial AAPI in kidlit within our kids’ generation.


Books that made us laugh

Whistle for Willie

I know this is an old book and a classic – but it gets forgotten in the shadow of Snowy Day and the more flashy Keats books.

But seriously this book is just so perfect in capturing the long moments of nothing-to-do-ness that our kids need more of. As we hit our second month of unschooling, I’m seeing more of  this kind of goofy, exploratory play, and it’s amazing. It just feels good knowing my kids get to have unstructured, self-directed goals like learning to whistle or trying to figure out what our pets know.

Both 4.5 & 7 enjoyed this, but it was more targeted for 4-5. It’s just so utterly sweet, full of little-kid-challeges, like getting dizzy, or getting frustrated learning to whistle. Does his Daddy disguise actually trick mom or not? The ambiguity tickles me.

It was really, really hard to give this back to the library. I don’t want this part of my kids’ childhood to end, and giving this book back felt like submitting to the inevitable realization that this sweet spot in our life together won’t last for much longer.

Leave Me Alone

I keep going back and forth on this one – does this grandmother it feed into a grouchy elder trope or not? I mean – she has a good reason to be grouchy. And for lots of us trapped in tiny homes with a bushel of children, I think we can totally empathize with her right now.

I’m gonna say it’s fine, because the Earthquakes and I love this book and it makes us laugh. I love that she’s competent, I love that the story is over-the-top silly and surreal, and I love that the protagonist is an older adult who doesn’t play into the endlessly patient granny theme. The woman has needs. Grandparents are people.

I think 5.5 years is the sweet-spot for this one. Q liked it at 3, and at 7.5, Q still enjoyed it for a couple reads, but the 5.5yo LOVES it. And back when he was 5.5, this was the only book ever, out of literally thousands of books, that inspired Q to write a fan letter to an author. Brosgol never responded, btw, which still smarts.

Aside from that – it’s just helpful to remind my kids that some folks get sensory overwhelm and need some peace and quiet sometimes.

Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao

We LOOOOVE this, particularly great for 5, but also at 7, but particularly if for chilly days when you’re making vegan char siu bao at home.

I say that I’m in a perfect mom deity who doesn’t despise baking, but I’ve made it like this one time, and only because we got excited about DIY-ing our own bao from this book. In truth, the bao boxed up by frowning aunties at the Chinatown bakery my family has been going to for generations is better than anything I can whip up on my own. Just like grandma used to uhhh…buy.

OH MY GOSH it just occurred to me that the economic restaurant collapse could affect my ability to get the perfect bao and NOW I AM PANIC. Everyone within 100 miles of Boston please go buy Hing Shing pastries* right now and throughout the pandemic, please and thank you.

This is the antidote to one of the most subversively vile anti-Chinese @#$^&^ books, The Ugly Dumpling. I’m so excited to add this to our collection on anti-Asian racism & food shaming.

*Note to white people: I know they’re pretty, but do not try to eat a whole mooncake. Normally I find it hilarious to watch you try since that’s the first thing white folks typically order. But they don’t work like that and I don’t want you to judge our food on a habit of American-style gluttony.


Books that gave us hope

The Tea Dragon Festival

Have I not mentioned this series outside of our non-binary collection yet? I feel like I have, but I can’t remember. So let’s take this opportunity to talk about this radically cute and subversively progressive furry-esque series of graphic fantasy tales focusing on adorable, high-maintenance tea dragons.

The main character (Rinn) uses they/them pronouns, and the story normalizes disability (Deaf characters, with both Deaf & hearing folks using ASL). I’m fairly certain Rinn’s Gramman is Blind.

Going beyond the previous book, the story touches on gender fluidity:

“’And what about male and female forms, can dragons shift between those too?’

‘Certainly, if you learn how. I know a number of dragons who like to freely move back and forth.’”

This installment stands alone without the first book, The Tea Dragon Society (I this is a prequel, actually, as it takes place before Erik starts using a wheelchair, and I suspect the characters in this book might be Greta from Society‘s grandparents), plus it just has more stuff going on. My reluctant reader devoured it and I had to pry it out of his hands to bring it back to the library. He’s been begging me for a copy to keep.

Superluminous

LOVELY! The 5.5yo adored this, and so do I. About a little girl who is different – in a way that she doesn’t mind until she heads to school and suddenly different feels bad. I’ll let you find out the greatness in the story on your own, but I will say that the story works well as an allegory for neurodiversity & disability acceptance, normalizing girls of color, multiracial families, and healthy sibling relationships. Not #OwnVoices – it’s by a white Belgian author. But whatever, he did such a spectacular job. Disclosure: Annick Press sent me a free review copy.

Human Body!

I keep meaning to add this book to our anatomy collection, but always forget to take note of it because it’s just always floating around the house. My kids love this book so hard that the 5yo added it to his birthday wish list when he was only three. It’s still one of his top 5 favorite books, over two years later. He pulls it out and asks me to read a page from it maybe every 3-4 days. At this point, both kids have an advanced understanding of the workings of the human body that I didn’t think was possible. It’s not intersex-inclusive, but that’s really my only small caveat on this non-fiction book.

So here is why I’m remembering to mention it now. On this one spread, there is a timeline of medical advances made over the history of humanity. Toward the end, we see that viruses were identified and vaccines created so very recently that it really puts into perspective how lucky we are. In fact- we had just mastered this understanding of viruses and vaccines only a couple weeks before the outbreak in Wuhan – giving us a context to reference when our Chinese New Year celebrations had to be cancelled.

This gives me hope. Humanity has suffered through pandemics before. But never have we had a worldwide pandemic like this while we also have an understanding of vaccines. We know that there will be an end to the Covid 19 pandemic, and that humanity will survive. Seeing how far we’ve come gives our kids a sense of hope and security in the face of uncertainty while we are still waiting for the surge to slow.


Bonus: What I’m reading this month (Grown-Up Books)

Say Her Name

Have I mentioned this book of poetry yet? UGH IT IS SO GOOD! Dude, I don’t even like poetry. But I love this book. Halfway through it, I finally got the guts to connect with Zetta Elliott so we could conspire on a Maker Spotlight because seriously at some point she’s going to be so flooded with interview requests we gotta get in soon, right?

Definitely for teens and adults (not kiddos) as the content alludes to violence against women and sexual assault. Also as always: disclosure! Elliott is a RL patreon supporter, because she is just awesome in a myriad of ways.

Simplicity Parenting

We’ve started discussing this in a thread over in the Luminary Brain Trust (LBT) group (get access to that by becoming a Luminary+ member), but basically it’s a neurodiversity-friendly parenting book mushing together The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Waldorf education principles. So nothing new, but it’s a good refresher / intro if you’d like to brush up on that kind of thing.

Now seems like a good time, too – while we’re already forced to simplify and cut down on social clutter & events.

The Art of Gathering

Rebekah L. mentioned this months ago and I just finally got the kindle version from the library. Which is perfect timing, now that we are all scrambling to manage social connections through social distancing. Earlier this month, we hosted a small but mightly LBT zoom chat using the principles in this book to discuss how we can cultivate social connections for our kids though a year of social distancing. It was pretty great! One day, I’ll see if I can make sense of the transcripts and post them somewhere.

Funny, You Don’t Look Autistic

The publisher offered me a free copy of this book, but I declined because it wasn’t a picture book and also I didn’t want to be biased or afraid to rip into it. But I got ahold of a library copy and it’s…well it’s exactly what it looks like. A young, white, wealthy Autistic man writes a memoir 30-years-premature.

We’re not yet flooded with the voices of wealthy white speaking autistic men, but I for one, am a little exhausted in the ways they dominate conversations about autism.

Look, McCreary is charming. His book is fine nad inoffensive. He’s good at painting a nice-guy depiction of himself where in his two decades on earth he’s only ever done nice-but-embarrassing things. He even admits in the book how writing  memoir so young is kind of silly. It’s got a lane – and that’s for other wealthy, white speaking autistic boys to look up to him and see that life gets better. He goes over the basics about person-first v. identity-first language. He depicts moderately healthy masculinity (while ignoring women as anything other than love interests ((exception: idolizing the problematic Temple Grandin)). And he uses ‘special needs‘ in innocent yet harmful way that betrays how new to disability rights he really is.

I’m trying to take a rising-tide-lifts-all-boats view of this, but frankly, I’m just sick of the ways women & nonbinary BIPOC autistics are forced to self- & micro-publish on a shoestring (leaving these books expensively inaccessible and locked out of libraries) while dudes like this – with two supportive, financially stable parents, a steady career, and all the shit he doesn’t have to deal with – get book deals and folks (including my own local library) boost this shit like it’s on fire.

I’d hand this to a 12-year-old speaking autistic son, with the hard caveat of all the voices missing from this narrow depiction of the autistic identity. For the rest of us non-white, non-male, non-wealthy autistics, it’s just mildly infuriating.

 



Stay Curious, Stand Brave & Protect Survivors

If you enjoyed this and found it helpful, please consider making a donation to your local shelter supporting domestic violence survivors in my honor. Folks need a safe place to isolate away from abusers.

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