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July 2020 Good Finds
[Image description: Good Finds July 2020 banner]
About July’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. Actually- this might be our last official ‘good finds’ post as I will be working on a way to make each book recommendation easier to find and read. (Same content, better format). Stay tuned!
- 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 INCITE!? If not, you might be excited to learn about their initiatives to end police violence against women of color & trans people. 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.
- 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:
- Aquicorn Cove
- The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh – Transparency! I got a my copy of this from Little Feminist Book Club.
- The Sand Warrior
- Insignificant Events In The Life of A Cactus – Transparency! Sterling Publishing sent me a free review copy of this.
- Unicorns 101
- Why Heaven Is Far Away
- The Case of the Snack Snatcher
- Mia Mayhem vs. The Super Bully
- Paper Son
For older teens & grown-ups
- Holy Troublemakers – Transparency! The author, Daneen A. is a Raising Luminaries Patreon supporter and Rebekah L. sent me a free copy so I could check it out. Aaaalso it features another one of our lovely Patreon supporters, Cindy Wang Brandt of Parenting Forward on the cover. I am so deeply in cahoots with these awesome ladies. Proudly in cahoots!
- The Witches Are Coming
- The Parker Inheritance
- Tell Me Who You Are
Let’s unpack some books!
Books we’ve been searching for
This simple graphic novel was juuust basic enough for the 6 year-old, and we’re adding it to our lexicon of books that help kids give AF about our oceans and the environment, but in way that doesn’t send them reeling into despair or nihilism. This is the only engaging book I’ve found that addresses over-fishing, water pollution, and alludes to water rights – without getting all didactic and preachy about it.
Most characters avoid pronouns altogether, but at least one character is uses They/them. There’s an implied pansexual (?) relationship (hard to tell since one person’s gender isn’t referenced, and the other is nonbinary. But it’s definitely not hetero!)
I particularly liked the change of heart of Aunt Mae – who goes from a littering, capitalism-motivated, complex person (a caring who does shitty things!) into recognizing that they’ve made made some mistakes. We see the impact of her choices, and Mae takes responsibility for their actions and takes steps to heal the harm. Which is perfect for teaching kids about transformative justice.
The protagonist, Lana, is multiracial but white presenting with red hair, which is lovely (both her mom and aunt present as ambiguously brown). Both mom and Aunt Mae have big beefy arms which I LOVE SO MUCH.
The protagonist has a single father, and the story suggests he’s not doing a great job. In fact, she finds solace in being cared for only when she visits her aunt. Dad is crappy not because he’s a single father – but because he’s still grieving the loss of his wife. But still – I don’t think we need more books about dads not parenting up to snuff. That’s really my only quibble with the story.
Oh hey check it out – a cute book normalizing physical disabilities (protagonist is a wheelchair user)! The actual story is about a pet lizard friend – and how the lizard can do most of the things the kid does, just differently. “Zibbo is amazing just the way he is.”
Which I guess makes this both normalizing and empowering. Lovely.
Caveat: Antony could have been more mindful with the illustrations – as is typical, the kiddo’s wheelchair looks more like a hospital wheelchair than one meant for every day use.
It’s super basic, so I’m thinking this is best for kids under 6. You can check out the author read aloud here.
The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh
This book has been in the colors collection for a while, but I got a keeper copy of this from Little Feminist Book Club. I don’t really know if that counts as skewing my review (because I give these books positive reviews before I get the books and I get the books because I approved them for upcoming book boxes). It’s kind of a chicken-and-egg situation, so let’s just add disclosures to be safe.
Anyway – yay for lovely books normalizing healthy masculinity and gentle brown boys!!! Harpreet chooses his patka (a dastaar, but for younger kiddos) color based on his emotions, which both normalizes and destigmatizes Sikh kiddos, but also empowers boys to acknowledge and communicate their emotions. And he’s explicit – a patka is NOT A HAT. We learn all kinds of good stuff when we move out of the way and let #OwnVoices Sikh authors represent themselves.
R2 enjoyed this for a read at 6, but it was a little bit simple and I do wish there was a touch of humor or mystery to keep kids more engaged. Despite that, it’s solid, and probably best for the 3-6 range.
The Sand Warrior
The Sand Warrior is the first book in the 5 Worlds series, a scifi graphic novel for kiddos. I originally tried it out when Q was 6.5 but it was just too advanced for him, but now that he’s 8, I thought it’d make a great birthday present.
Well golly gosh wow, does it. Q went from a reluctant, screaming-writing-whining reader (we never push reading, but you’d think I’m jabbing him with a hot poker when I had him a 1-word board book and ask if he’d like to read it to me) to the kind of kid who stays in bed all day with his nose in a book
He brings this book with him to meals. He falls asleep on it at night. He does all of his chores and brushes his teeth, with the promise that if he does these things 14 days in a row, we’ll buy him the next book in the series.
The writers are white, with two Asian and one white illustrators. And the overall series, I suspect, is going to dig deeper into tensions on racial coding, but I’m just crossing my fingers it doesn’t turn into white saviorism and another Zootopia.
So far, the Toki, a race of blue-skinned people relegated to manual labor, are the bad guys under control of the Big Bad Guy. Which feels problematic to me. The folks in power (folks who live on Mon Domani) have no word for their race so far. Which feels a lot like white folks acknowledging monolithic groups like Black, Latinx, etc. but clutching their sandstones when we say “white people.” The…Mon Domani-ans(?) live in a colorblind fever dream, where white, Black, and Asiatic-presenting people live in more-or-less harmony with no acknowledgement of humanoid race. Although almost all the folks in power are white.
There are a few plump characters, but nothing radical enough to include in the adipositivity collection.
Books that gave us hope
The Case of the Snack Snatcher
This was part 1 in the West Meadows Detectives series. I’ve been sitting on this for a year, waiting for time to read it with the 8-year-old. Pandemic benefits – now that it’s so hard to get books out of the library, we have plenty of time for chapter books! The 6-year-old sat through the first chapter and bounced, it’s still too advanced for him.
The neurodivergent kiddo asked if Myron was autistic before the book disclosed it. I LOVE this, and so did he. He actually saw himself in two characters, Hajrah – a South Asian girl who is hyperactive, and Myron, the #BasicWhiteBoyAutisticSavant.
I wish Myron was anything OTHER than a white guy, but unlike many allistic folks who play off the Basic White Boy Autistic Savant (TM), he doesn’t read as cold and robotic. The reason this book gives me hope is that the author consulted with an #ActuallyAutistic adult (Dr. Jason Nolan) – and not just any rando off the street – an Autistic who studies early childhood development. This diligence shows. Myron is a character you can empathize with and admire. He’s someone you’d want to be friends with – not just collect as a diversity token.
The story is short and lovely. The ‘bad guys’ showed compassion and complexity, Hajrah is an exercise in breaking submissiv stereotypes about Asian girls and my little hyperactive auistic loved that he got to identify with BOTH of the characters.
Even though the book is narrated by Myron (again, not ideal) Hajrah pulls her weight and is a full partner, not a sidekick. I’m wondering how much work he truly did to depict Hajrah as more than brown-face, however. While she has the name and the looks – what aspects of her personality are informed by her culture? Cause she reads as white to me. Crossing my fingers this improves in later books.
The one thing that super-bugged me: the author betrays his whiteness by playing into the orientalist ’shifty eyes’ trope. “They were twins with big ears, flat noses, and small eyes. In detective stories, those are called shifty eyes. Characters with shifty eyes cannot be trusted. Ever.”
While the ‘bad guys’ are white, it’s impossible to separate that stereotype of what ’shifty eyes’ means away from the origin of Asians as untrustworthy. And it’s notable how Hajrah is the type of Asian with round eyes who doesn’t fall into that stereotype. So I talked with the kiddo about why people make those assumptions about folks with epicanthic folds and double eyelids.
So talk about that, but despite this – Myron and Hajrah had nothing to ‘overcome’ we just get to them in their glory using their unique talents and neurodivergent cognition to solve a mystery. Although this applies much more to Myron than Hajrah – we don’t really see how her disabilities help them solve the mystery, much more than her willingness to move forward and act without letting Myron overthink things.
Mia Mayhem vs. The Super Bully
Transparency: This is another chicken-and-egg situation, this is another free keeper from Little Feminist Book Club. I should also add that I perceive the illustrator as white (England born & US settler), and I can’t find any biographies or photos of the author, so it’s unlikely this is an #OwnVoices series.
While #1 and #2 in the Mia Mayhem series were a bit slow and clunky, West really finds her footing with his one. This is a nice cohesive chapter book about brushing off past sore losers. The characters don’t magically win over the bully, which is refreshing. Who says it’s always on the target to win over a bully? We’re allowed to drop that nonsense!
But the main theme of the story is on healthy pacing, self-care, resting when we’re exhausted. And in this book, we’ve got a fast and powerful new super-hero friend who uses two running blade prosthesis, which is cool. So I’m gonna add that to our normalizing disability collection – her legs aren’t a big deal, but they aren’t ignored, and after talking about her prosthetic legs, the rest of her role in the book is as a friend, not ‘the disabled character.’
2019 version by Julie Leung – not to be confused with the 2013 book by Ong, Loh, and James, which I admit I haven’t read yet.
We read this alongside my great-uncle’s report of how my multiple generations of our Great (x2-4) Grandfathers came to the US from the same province of Guangdong as Tyrus, also picking up ‘paper names’ in order to thwart racist laws banning us from the US.
Speaking to the erasure of AAPI contributions to US culture, we see how Wong’s work at Disney was influential – and how he got none of the credit and was repeatedly discriminated against as disposable. So many scenes in this book gave us a way to discuss how our family had to jump through loopholes to get here, about Asian American erasure – but also gives us a reflection of how this is STILL HAPPENING for immigrants in detention today.
It’s appropriate for younger kids as the story glosses over how truly horrible the holding prisons our ancestors were detained in, and for how long. But there’s just enough emotional pull – how he had to live without his mother and sister. And that connected, for us, with the fact that my the women and younger sons in our familis, were left behind in Guangdong, where many died of starvation.
It was exciting for the 7-year-old to talk about how Wong’s family is from the same place as ours, to look at the pictures of his mother and sister and how similar they are to our own family photos.
Unfortunately there’s no pinyin equivalent for the few words italicized in Cantonese. Reading this book inspired Q and R2 to sit up late for several nights pouring over Water To Paper, Paint To Sky / The Art of Tyrus Wong to look at how Wong’s influence stretched into many of our favorite movies. Although I suspect most of the interest was in Wong’s naked figure exercises. But he WAS taken with Wong’s kites, which are spectacular.
Books that made us laugh
Insignificant Events In The Life of A Cactus
Transparency! Sterling Publishing sent me a free review copy of this. Which I am glad about because I never would have thought to pick it up otherwise.
I sat on this a while – had to wait until Q was 8 for him to get old enough to get the humor. But POW-BAM-BOOM – he hit 8 (and a pandemic that left us with no library picture book alternatives) and LOVED it. I’ve never had so much fun reading a chapter book out loud. The flow is spectacular. It was really fun for us.
I *think* the author did a good job both de-stigmatizing limb difference in the treatment of this character – while also speaking to her humanity and depth beyond her identity as an adopted person and kid with limb differences. But I haven’t been able to find any feedback from #ActuallyDisabled folks with limb differences. So I am interested to hear your take on it, folks who know more about this than I do.
For a book that treated disability so mindfully, there was a surprising amount of abelist slurs. Such as the repeated use of the word ‘lame’ as a pejorative. Which COME ON – in a book about girl with no arms, this should have given the author like THREE SECONDS OF PAUSE. Plus sanist stuff like ‘crazy’ and ‘psycho’ and suggesting that people with mental health conditions are dangerous. “I didn’t know if something was wrong with him, like he was insane and could attack me at any moment,” Dude, no! That could have been phrased better without playing into stereotypes that folks with mental health conditions are dangerous, rather than disproportionately more likely to be targets of violence. And there is an older character whose dementia is used as a plot point (the doddering old fool / incompetent elder trope).
I point this out because so much of the book treats both physical and mental disability with compassion and respect. So frankly, I’m just confounded that the author and editors would have let his shit through.
Beyond that – the friend with Tourettes is a bit flat, but a great character. And for some reason, there’s a token fat black character (Zion) who has so little impact on the story it feels like he was thrown in as an afterthought. Kind of like the token Black friend in Fish In A Tree. Who wears a shirt that says ‘Flint’ and the author confirmed that this has nothing to do with the water crisis in Flint are you fucking serious here with this oblivious white nonsense? Neither kid’s Blackness has anything to do with his story, their lives, and nor does this Blackness present any additional hurdles to the characters that the white protagonists don’t have to navigate. Whitewashing!
Zion reads as if the author was like ‘let’s break stereotypes about black nerds’ without actually knowing about Black Geekdom. Zion reads as very white – not because his parents are nerds, but because the only thing that the author acknowledges about his blackness is his brown skin. And we could fill another 300 pages on what she was thinking when she named him ‘Zion’ without any reference to the biblical roots, Black Zion, or the racism of Zionism (all the stuff that readers are bound to wonder about), reducing a word with such deep meaning to multiple targeted people into a SciFi reference. (This is that Flint T-shirt all the fuck over again).
Okay – I ranted about the gross parts. But you’ll just have to believe me that despite all this (I mention it just so you’re prepared for it), we really did love this book.
**SPOILER** Although – honestly one day I’d love to read a book where a person is a adopted and that fact does not have any bearing on the big mystery twist at the end. JUST EVEN ONCE PLEASE.
I do like that solving the mystery of her first mother wasn’t a shiny happy ending, But she was allowed to hold complex feelings about it instead of rushing into forgiveness or familial relationship with her blood relatives.
Unicorns 101 – This was a shallow, ridiculous, funny book full of slightly-annoying continuity errors. But it’s about unicorns, so I the bar is low.
R2 is currently in the intense-unicorn-obsession stage. I’m talking wearing a fleece unicorn hooded suit & matching rainbow tutu in 90-degree weather, unicorn birthday cake, don’t-you-dare-talk-shit-about-the-‘orns stage.
So this is one of the better unicorn books out there. I want to show him that I care about him, and he cares about unicorns, so I can pretend to give fuck about imaginary magic horses who poop vegan cheeseburgers or whatever.
The humor is best for 5+, and it’s not gendered the way most unicorn books are, which is refreshing (Cale Atkinson is a steady fave in this house and proof that white men can make good books without being shitty). It’s just ‘facts,’ and visual gags. No story. It’s fun for a read or two, and I haven’t died of boredom with R2’s requests for nightly reads of it.
Mostly it’s just nice to flip through and talk about the silliness together. We’re having fun with it.
Why Heaven Is Far Away
Back in May 2019’s Good Finds, we talked about the first book in this universe, What A Truly Cool World.
I this sequel, Irene God & Shaniqua lead the charge in this one, but God is still a compassionate leader who views the women in his life as equals.
I know Christianity just kind of blankets everything (particularly the loud, conservative, bigoted arm), but trust me, this is lovely.
I don’t read these books as ‘This is Christianity and it is what is right and normal,‘ but as ‘Some folks believe in a benevolent god and the universe as intelligently designed,’ the same way we learn about Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, Hinduism, etc. It’s just as important to counter the gross bigotry of Christian extremists, the same way we show that there are progressive, inclusive, like-minded folks with the same values as us who hold all kinds of faiths.
Apart from that – this is great for parents explaining why kids need to work out their own nonsense without always dumping their squabbles into the lap of a neutral authority (me. I want less mediating in my life.) So it’s a great book for talking about sibling conflict.
Like its predecessory, this story holds so many good messages. Such as how snakes – animals maligned by humanity, are a beauty within nature, countering assumptions of speciesism. Why they have poison and ways to defend and avoid attack (this book is a gorgeous metaphor or evolution). How the gentle nod to AAVE as the language of supreme beings elevates and celebrates the vernacular.
This book, along with The Worms That Saved The World (transparency – the author sent me a copy for free), are our go-to bedtimereads for when folks in power are moaning about broken windows and property damage in a rebellion to protect human lives.
Bonus: What I’m reading this month
Have I told you about this yet? In case I haven’t yet – it’s lovely!
Transparency! The author, Daneen A. is a Raising Luminaries Patreon supporter and Rebekah L. sent me a free copy so I could check it out. Aaaalso it features another one of our lovely Patreon supporters, Cindy Wang Brandt of Parenting Forward on the cover. I am so deeply in cahoots with these awesome ladies. Proudly in cahoots!
Again, atheist here – and I love learning about all of these badass disruptors from all different faiths, coming together under a shared value of inclusion, human rights, and making the world better here and now for the humans on this planet.
Through this bios, we see how justice, compassion, and being a badass is not aligned to any specific faith. We’re all connected in this.
I’ve been searching for 101-entry level books that will help folk growing up outside strict rigid doctrines to help us understand how world faiths intertwine, connect, and uphold each other. So we can teach our kids to be not just tolerant, but inclusive and celebratory of each other.
And this book does EXACTLY that.
We’re discussing this over in the Luminary Brain Trust. It’s a lot to process. Lovely and hard.
The Witches Are Coming
The followup to Shrill – this is so funny even my white dude partner is reading it. I think this is the first book he’s ever read by a woman.
(Not including JK Rowling, because she’s always been terrible – happily willing to reinforce all the toxic bullshit that makes white dudes feel comfy and superior, retconning as needed to appear inclusive while living as a loud & proud bigot.)
The Parker Inheritance
Okay I’ll admit I didn’t finish this. I borrowed it on audio book, and Cherise Boothe is *perfection* but oh on gosh who has ten hours of silence to listen to a book? With the Earthquakes interrupting every three seconds, at that rate, I won’t finish it until the Earthquakes are in high school!
So I’m about 40% through, waiting for it in ebook format so I can read it zippity-zip. But I wanted to tell you about it before I forget because it’s SO GOOD. A bit too old for 8 (he tried to listen, had a hard time following). Probably best for middle-schoolers, teens, and adults.
Tell Me Who You Are
April B. recommended this fantastic book. It’s a treasure. This is the book you want hanging out in the bathroom for when your racist uncle comes over. Post-pandemic, I guess, when doing things like letting your racist uncle poop in your house won’t spread the plague.
What I’m saying is – it’s an easy, bite-sized read. It’s spectacularly executed. It should be in every classroom.
Stay Curious, Stand Brave & End Violence Against Women & Trans People of Color.*
If you enjoy my loud opinions about books and find it helpful towards the work you’re doing raising kind & courageous kiddos, join me in making quick $15 donation to INCITE!, a network of radical feminists of color organizing to end state violence and violence in our homes and communities.
*For those worrid that ‘women & trans people’ kind of implies that trans women don’t fall under the umbrella of ‘women,’ I hear you. This is an #OwnVoices org and it’s how they word it, so I’m gonna follow their lead. There’s a similar issue of semantics with the Autism Women & Nonbinary Network, which is also #OwnVoices & inclusive of nonbinary people who identify as women. So like – until we can coin a good word for non-cis men without centering men, this will have to do.