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[Image description: Good Finds June 2020 banner]
About June’s Good Finds
- Access: Usually Good Finds collections 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.
- Interdependence in practice: If you are not financially impacted by the shutdowns and have been meaning to support these resources, I would super appreciate a $5 contribution starting around now. Come join the patreon community if you’d like to join us. Joiiiinnn ussssss!
- Question: have you heard of The Abolitionist Youth Organizing Institute organized by Project NIA & EFA Project Space? If not, you might be exited to learn about their youth-based initiatives in transformative justice. I’ll tell you about it later on in the post.
- Age-reference: Usually these are recent finds that my 6 & 8 yo are loving, but since we no longer have access to our library network, I’m reaching into older notes. So I’ll specify when I’m talking about books that were hits at previous ages.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
For folks who want to quickly cut & paste to create a reading list:
- This Beach is Loud!
- The Ugly Vegetables
- Bilal Cooks Daal
- Rise! From Caged Bird To Poet of the People
- Magnificent Homespun Brown
- Slug Days
- Llama Destroys The World
- Gotta Go! Gotta Go!
Let’s unpack some books!
Books we’ve been searching for
I am loving this series VERY MUCH. Cotterill is an #OwnVoices Autistic author who validates and destigmatizes everyday experiences of autistic kids as well as any neurodivergent kiddos with sensory processing disorder (SPD).
While I want to say this was perfect for us as we enter summer, it turns out we can’t go to the beach for the foreseeable future due to, y’know, the apocalyptic pandemic and all.
But you know what? It’s perfect for not going to the beach, too. Because the kid in this book is me and I am them – a crowded beach is a sensory hellhole and the illustrations capture it perfectly. But at the same time – it’s the perfect book to prepare kids for the sensory overwhelm, giving them a quick and easy mindfulness technique to (hopefully) prevent a meltdown.
Both the 5.9 & 8-year-old loved it (but it’s best targeted closer to the 3-6 range). The story was perfect to illustrate to my allistic kid what it feels like to be sensory avoidant, while also getting my sensory-seeking kid to acknowledge the link between sensory input and overwhelm. Which he has, he just hasn’t connected the dots yet. So many good uses for this!
Plus, it’s cute, adorable, and funny story normalizing an ambiguously (non-explicit) nonbinary non-white character with a single dad. YES, MORE OF THAT PLEASE!
I love this as a metaphor validating the experience of 1.5 & 2nd gen immigrants, pushing back against the glorification of assimilation.
Typically our family just doesn’t connect with Grace Lin books. She’s a lovely human and #OwnVoices AAPI author! I love the work she’s doing in the world! But the writing is…hard for me to deal with. And the illustrations are not our thing, with confusing details that leave me spinning (are the kiddos wearing baseball gloves on their right hands to normalize southpaws, or has Lin never worn a baseball gloves? These are the details that make me go pufferfish!) And, well – most of her picture books just don’t have any plot or way to hook kids in. I’ve also had some issues with some of her more problematic books. HOWEVER – this book is FANTASTIC.
Both the 5.9 & 7-year-old enjoyed this, I’m gonna guess it’s best for kiddos in the 4-7 range, with some leeway for older kids who are actively wrestling with internalized bias and pressure to assimilate.
Oh this was adorable and sweet and everything I wanted for our Don’t Yuck My Yum & Anti-Asian Food Shaming collection. We can share and celebrate our food – while also being a little nervous that a rejection of the stuff we love is a rejection of us. Beyond that – it’s really a story of patience and sharing the stuff we love with the people we love. The 5.5 year old loved this the most, while the 7.5 year old seemed a bit too old. Best for kiddos roughly 3.5-7.
Bonus: The #OwnVoices AAPI author & Pakistani Canadian illustrator took pains to show the characters taking off their damn shoes when they came inside. Something white authors tend to miss when they take on an Asian American protagonist.
CONTENT WARNING FOR SEXUAL VIOLENCE AGAINST A CHILD, ANTI-BLACK VIOLENCE
The adorable illustrations in the Little People Big Dreams Maya Angelou had toddler R2 huggling that book for months – but everything in that series is just so damn shallow. Kind of a ‘look at what happened to these amazing people’ and less ‘look at what you have in common with heroes who lit a torch for you to carry.’
So I’ve been searching through the biographies of Maya Angelou for a few years now, and none of them hooked the kids. Too dry, too shallow, too wordy. This book, however, caught us in the guts.
To get into the messy foundations of Angelou’s work, you have to talk about injustice, racism, oppression, and violence. Erasing her pain minimizes her contributions. But we have to discuss those without, y’know – traumatizing kids. This book struck a good balance. The author alludes to the violence she survived as a child and talks about the trauma and survivor’s guilt she carried over her abuse & the murder of her attacker. So parents who aren’t ready to talk about sexual violence can choose how deep they want to go. For our 7-year-old, who is well versed in the concept of healthy consensual sex, this was the book where we chose to dive into the concepts of sexual violence and rape. Which yeah – that left him spinning a little. It should. We talked about how rape is not the same thing as sex – it’s violence. And now we’re able to continue those conversations, which need to start now – so he can protect himself against predators, prevent himself from doing harm to someone else, and be the teen in the room who says “Cut it out” to dude friends terrifying women for fun.
And – unlike many books about Angelou, this one does not blame her mother for dating a predator. Why we always gotta find a way to blame a woman for sexual assault, whether it’s the survivor or any woman nearby – I dunno. But it was the predator who chose to attack a little girl, the predator who should take that ire and judgement – not any woman in proximity for failing to to lock their kids in bunkers.
Books that gave us hope
Lacking story, this set of affirmations was mostly carried by the adorable and charming illustrations. While it’s accessible for all kids, the affirmations focus on brown skin, brown hair, and brown eyes, and was explicitly written for multiracial & multi-ethnic Black & Brown kids. The illustration normalize breaking gender constructs with mostly rambunctious feminine-presenting kids (no pronouns) who get progressively (and joyfully) covered in scrapes and bandages as the book goes on.
What gets me are the tiny details. Siblings in wheelchairs (real power wheelchair, not a hastily drawn hospital version), with service dogs. Friends with head coverings, one of which has vitiligo. Although it’s worth noting that these are all accessory characters, not he ones being affirmed.
Beyond the illustrations, the text is a bit too poetic for my 5 & 7 to hold onto. It’s more of a series of phrases with no plot – which almost begs us to create our own story to keep kids engaged (I don’t have the bandwidth for that, but maybe you do?)
Illustrations are dated but OH MY GOSH THE TEARS I AM FLOODED WITH. The Autistic protagonist is accepted and wonderful – with a story that isn’t about her autism. And the end, THE END! Where she grows up to be an expert in her hyperfocus, how we see she made a difference, how we break that myth that autistic people are stuck as perpetual children or just fall off the face of the planet when we hit 18. SO GOOD for normalizing disability and introducing animal rights – opening the door to talk about the impacts of climate change.
HOWEVER – there is evidence years back that his author has donated a portion of the profits from this book to Autism Speaks back in 2014 (boo!! hiss!!) and it’s unclear if that relationship is still a thing. Which is like a total 180 from the message of the book where the character is awesome the way she is. I can’t find any evidence of an apology from the author or publisher on that. So maybe pick up a used copy.
While not the kind of book you’d want to read over and over – this chapter book made the 8-year-old laugh, cringe in empathy, and opened us up to discussing some of the confusing parts of interacting with allistic kids and adults at school.
Based on the bio, I’m pretty sure the author is allistic, but she does a decent job writing from the perspective of an autistic character – even if her depiction is a bit one-dimensional and robotic.
We used this book to unpack conflicts and miscommunication issues at school – giving us a chance to slow it down from real time and consider the perspective of how our autistic behavior can look to allistic kids.
There is value for autistic kids seeing how they’re not alone in getting confused and frustrated with the social labyrinth of school life. There aren’t any solutions, just reflection of what leads to issues. And like I said – the character reads as robotic. She bounces from one confusing interaction to the next, never carrying the impact of these emotionally loaded conflicts to the next moment.
In addition to reinforcing the myth that autistics don’t have feelings (WE SO DO. BIG FEELINGS!) – this erases the real cause of most meltdowns entirely. It’s not one bad thing that sets us off – it’s a slow drip of confusion, panic, and overwhelm until we finally break and have a meltdown after what seems like some tiny trigger.
I do wonder how it reads to allistic folks though. Will the character just become a joke, like a modern Amelia Bedelia? I know you’re cringing along with us. But are you laughing with us because “Oh my gosh I know how that feels” or are you laughing because we’re sucking at things and haha autistic people are socially awkward doofs?
In the end, she makes friend with a person who immigrated from another country – which brings up discussions on why it’s easier to make friends who are different from us in age, culture, etc. because folks who know we aren’t like them offer more leeway when we do autistic things. I’m not 100% sure the author even realized this phenomena herself – as we don’t see the protagonist offering this leeway to her new friend, as would be expected. We are a considerate lot, when given enough information on what to consider. (If anything, it’s the allistics who aren’t spending hours pre-scripting and mapping our next meeting who seem inconsiderate to me.)
I wish the book had given us more than vague gestures like nose pinches and squinched faces to tell us the impact of the protagonist’s actions. Like – at one point she lays across a Black classmates lap and starts toying with her hair. Are we relying on parents (especially white parents) to both recognize the history and impact on this classmate? Are we relying on them to explain to kids why OH MY GOSH NO NEVER DON’T EVER put your grubby hands on this meticulous braids? In another scene, she kisses a classmate without consent. We see the resulting fight – but we don’t hear from the kid she assaulted, or how that impacted him beyond a generally grouchy demeanor toward her.
This puts a lot on adults reading aloud with kids to unpack the scenes – IF kids are reading along with an adult. Since it’s a chapter book for independent readers, leaves a wide gap between what is happening and what kids need to understand about these befuddling interactions.
Books that made us laugh
I thought this might be too surreal, but both 5 & 7 loved this. While it kind of appeared at first that the protagonist is multiracial Asian/white Americans (like the author, and like our family), and my kids definitely saw themselves visually reflected in the first scene. But visually the whole family looks whiter and whiter as the book progressed, which felt like the illustrator bait & switched us – and that smarts given how rare it is to find depictions of healthy masculinity for AAPI boys in kidlit.
But let’s focus on the story – it’s just weird and touching enough to keep kids engaged, keeping readers in this liminal space of – is this real? Is this kid just delusional? Which is kind of a great space for young kids who are just starting to work out the difference between reality and make-believe.
Beyond that, it’s just got an awesome message about growing up and more responsibly independent – validating that perpetual wiggly footing of childhood.
This is just silly nonsense that gave us a break from so much heaviness.
llama ignores signs that the world is ending and this is actually oddly soothing and hilarious and perfect for this constant sense of impending doom we’re living through in a pandemic. I mean – sure, global warming is going to fry us and leave our children to drown in the arctic before they hit our age, but at least life will start again, somehow, after the next ice age. Let’s say… ages 4+.
Spoiler alert: So while you’re reading this, stress that the end of the word is caused by choosing to wear ill-fitting pants – NOT Llama eating cake and getting bloated. If you’re not careful how you spin this story, it can read as fat-phobic. We read it as – you get bigger, you make mistakes – and despite our anxiety and doom-thinking, things end up fine. This is what I keep reminding myself as we let so much slip (so much junky food! So many junky videogames! So much screaming!) while locked together in the house with our kids these past three months.
So just be mindful of that. It’s the pants. Not the chub.
You can tell I’m struggling without a library, because today we’re dipping into the books we’ve been reading since before Books For Littles was a thing.
This is just so sweet and enduring. We all still enjoy it and our copy is well-worn from seven years of snuggles. Following our instincts, trusting we can get to where we need to be if we just keep at it, ignoring the haters, and reminding us (both caregivers and kids) of the reason we do what we do.
Bonus: What I’m reading this month
Bad Arguments: I had hoped the illustrations would make this accessible for kids – but it’s basically a series of illustrated blog posts bound into a book. It’s fine, and might even be good for teens. But it’s not anything you can’t find by just googling stuff on the internet.
The Wild Book This was SO GOOD. It was a little too long and meandering for 8 (the meandering is lovely for older readers though). But there were elements in the story I was interested in discussing with the 8yo, so we cherry-picked the fun and silly poems, the scene featuring a mixture of alcohol and guns (with predictable results), and the slow and subtle build up of frustrations over sexism and her discomfort with being the target of a much older man’s sexual advances. The book was a short and delightful read that would be perfect for older kids, and was totally worth reading excerpts of to help kids understand the way being targeted foments silence and shame. ALSO: It’s based on the true story of the author’s grandmother, as a Latinx Cuban girl learning to read and write with dyslexia.
Sister Outsider: I ALMOST finished this before my library loan expired. While it’s amazing and full of deep and lovely things to mentally masticate, it’s also kind of soul sucking to see that we are still having these same conversations, fighting for the same issues, decades later. We’re talking about it in our Luminary Brain Trust group book club thread, if you’re a Luminary+ patreon member and would like to join us there.
A while back, I read to figure out why white ladies keep recommending White Fragility instead of books about race written by women of color. DiAngelo’s book was was…painful? I mean beyond the understanding that we all fall prey to these same habits of behavior when confronted with the harm we do, the privilege we hold, and the ways we weaponize our power. I mean it’s a good book – a necessary one. But also exhausting. Being an Asian person in America and autistic person in the world in means keeping track of everything I have to know as a non-white & allistic person, to keep from drowning in doubt and silencing tactics, to speak softly and carefully so as not to get smacked in the face with white & abled fragility. But what extends that exhaustion above and beyond is also to keep track of not just what I have learned through lived experience, but what white people think about my experience. To constantly have to be not just aware of my own perceptions – but how people with power perceive my perceptions. Always having to view the world through whiteness. The sheer amount of people in my local community recommending families read DiAngelo’s book – even when it adds nothing to my lexicon, means I have to read it. Just so I know who-knows-what and how to phrase my language to build on what they’ve learned so far. It’s also a lot of theory, a lot of concept, and not much urgency, tools, or clear calls to action. It is dangerously easy for white people to read this book and consider their work in anti-racism done. Despite that – I get that this book is the kick in the pants to help white people (including us people of color raised in whiteness) see why they need to step into discomfort.
SO WITH THAT – Me & White Supremacy is the next step beyond that. White Fragility showed white people why they should care. Recognizing fragility requires examining how it presents within ourselves, with more methodical, tangible evidence. This would be the next step for folks who want to move beyond recognizing a problem with white supremacy and actually changing the way we behave as people in the world. Saad covers the basics you’ll read in the internet, stuff you’re likely already doing – but there is value in unpacking it analytically, as a journal (or a series of lists, if you are a list person HELLO FRIENDS). There is less wiggle room than you’ll find in most implied calls to action – and I appreciate that. LASER FOCUS! The one thing I’d ask you to just keep in mind is that Saad starts basically every chapter with “THIS IS GOING TO HURT SO FUCKING BAD” (except she says it classier than that) which makes it kind of scary and for those of us with weird brains – start hurting right away. But it turns out she just covers all the stuff we cover here, just without masking it under the guise of cute picture books. So if you can the ‘Cut it the fuck out’ articles that I write, then reading this book will feel like a nice cozy bath.
Children of Virtue & Vengeance (book 2 in the series) Still too mature (so much violence) for littles, this is better for teens. Honestly – I loved the first book but this felt more like a setup for the third book, with the characters going back and forth making immature teenagery ‘HOW DARE!’ extremes of magical thinking. An former-lover-enemy comes to meet in good faith! Oh hey they still look so damn sexy! But wait! Coincidental attack! It must have been a trap! BACK TO ENEMIES (repeat 3-5x). But it’s worth reading just to continue the series, because I’m expecting the third book to finally break the tedious pattern of will they/won’t they kill/bang each other.
Your 8-Year-Old: Lively and Outgoing: Just for kicks, each year I read the next installment of this outdated, transphobic, fatphobic, sexist, whitewashed, ableist series on childhood development that was written roughly a generation ago. Here’s why – while some things are clearly a sign of the times and outright bullshit (personality based on body shape, for example), that somehow makes it even easier to identify the stuff that is genuinely correlated with cognitive development. It’s also helpful to see what was on-trend with the adults tasked with raising us, to learn what kinds of toxic bullshit I laid on today’s parents and educators when we were kids.
Reading contemporary books on parenting and childhood development – it’s hard to tell what behavior and practices are a product of parenting social pressures and culture, and which are genuinely based on how a typical young brain grows and what it’s capable of. By looking to previous generations with people whose values and assumptions I find morally repugnant, it’s easier to see the wetwork that scaffolds childhood development – regardless of our needs to fit in with the social environment we’ve habituated to and can’t see.
This is the same reason I read conservative OpEds & fundamental bible studies – looking for the common vein that connects us to even the UGH-est part of humanity helps me see deeper into what makes us human.
How To Do Nothing: I wanted to mention this because it’s a book with a title we’ve been focusing on for the last half-year or so. But I didn’t finish it because honestly – reading about rich white men’s lifestyles through the lens of performance art history is just not what I want to do with my time right now. Yet another book discussing it over in the Luminary Brain Trust – so if anyone has managed to finish it and has thoughts, I want to know how it works out! Does the book ever answer the question? Or is it just an art history & philosophy thesis with a misleading title? I WANTED SO HARD TO LIKE THIS BOOK! Sigh.
Stay Curious, Stand Brave & Support Abolition
If you enjoyed this (…whatever it is? Book review? Exhausted rant?) and found it helpful, please join me in making a quick $15 donation to The Abolitionist Youth Organizing Institute (AYO, NYC) to equip young people ages 16-24 to support communities in transformative & healing justice.
It’s not enough to just react to the aftermath of police brutality – we must create a society in which policing isn’t necessary, where communities have preventions and alternatives to policing and incarceration.
Particularly now in the middle of a pandemic – our work raising the next generation of kind and courageous leaders requires training, empowerment, and solidarity.