Free to be Incredible Me

Written by: Joelle-Elizabeth Retener

Illustrated by: Connor DeHaan

For ages: 4-8 years

Language: English 

Topics Covered: POC-Centric Narratives, Self-Expression, Gender Non-Conforming Youth, Acceptance, Family, Love, Social-Emotional Learning & Development. 

Summary: This book is SO cute!  It’s a quick read, the rhyming makes the pages turn quickly.  Manny returns from his first day of school pretty bummed, because he’s been teased for doing things “that boy’s shouldn’t do”.  Manny’s dad sees Manny’s heartache and sets about making sure Manny knows that boys can do anything.  They do their hair, have a dance party wearing bright colors, and try out different hairstyles.  Manny realizes that he can be himself and doesn’t have prove anything to anyone.  He can feel feelings, have confidence, and unlearn the negative thing society tries to push on young children in terms of gender expectations.

This book is so important.  Bookshelves are missing stories about young boys of color, and especially characters that are gender non-conforming.  Everyone needs to be seen, accepted, and loved for who they are.  Having these books that show parents and caregivers unabashedly celebrating who their children naturally are are CRUCIAL, we cannot overstate this.  This book shows how far we’ve come in the children’s literature world even in the last few years.  We do believe that other books with reticent parents have a place and are important, because that is a very real reaction that a lot of children face.  But it is just, if not even more, important that these are the books we’re reading to classrooms.  Check this book out and give it to everyone!

Reflection Questions:

  • Have you ever been told you couldn’t do something just because of who you are?
  • How did that feel?
  • Did someone help you find solutions to this dilemma?
  • Who helped you feel better?
  • How can you help someone that was told they couldn’t do something when you hear it?

About the Author & the Illustrator:

jer2“Hi! I am Joelle-Elizabeth Retener (she/her), a first generation Haitian-American from the DC metro area. I’m a proud graduate of Spelman College and American University, where I studied Spanish and International Studies. In my past life, I was a US diplomat and traveled the world promoting and implementing US foreign policies. I’m now taking a shot at writing kidslit while homeschooling my littles. I am passionate about promoting diversity & inclusion, and fighting for gender equality.”  She works tirelessly to ensure that all gender expansive children’s voices are heard, and that they are free to enjoy the same rights, and opportunities as their peers.  We think she rocks!

ProfileConnor DeHaan is a multifaceted designer based in upstate New York. Design has become a lifestyle for myself and progression my fuel. While Connor is away from his home studio, you can find him either cooking up some delicious plates, hanging with the pooch, and when the earth freezes over, up on the hill making some turns.

For more information on his work, to get in touch regarding employment opportunities, or to just say hello, feel free to reach out.

 

King and the Dragonflies

Written by: Kacen Callender

Cover Art by: Tonya Engel

For ages: YA

Language: English

Topics Covered: POC-Centric Narratives, Family, LGBTQ, Death, Relationships, Friendship.

Summary: We got this book from a friend who received a pre-release copy from the ALA Conference!  We are so excited to have been able to both read and review the book before the release date, because it was incredible!

King’s brother, Khalid, has just died.  He died abruptly, and King’s family is in shambles.  King is also trying to reconcile with who he is as a person along with the grief consuming him.  A few months before Khalid’s death, Khalid overheard King and his friend Sandy talking late one night during a backyard camp out.  Sandy had confessed to King that he was gay, and King responded that he might be gay too.  Khalid told King the next morning that he heard them in the tent, and that King shouldn’t hang around with Sandy anymore or people would start to think that King was gay too.  So King stopped being friends with Sandy, but King misses him and is filled with guilt about the ordeal.

King is also convinced that Khalid is now a dragonfly, that he shed his human skin and is now travelling the world as a jewel-toned bug.  On his way to the bayou to look for Khalid the dragonfly, King runs into Sandy for the first time in a few months and also the first time since Khalid’s death.  They have a brief conversation, and part ways.  When Sandy turns up missing, King is worried he’ll be implicated if anyone finds out that he was possibly the last person to see Sandy.

It takes a trip to Mardi Gras, letting go of secrets, and a wonderful Auntie to help the James family become close again.  Nothing we can write about the book can do the plot justice, and convey the emotion and strength in Callender’s words.  Highly recommend, I read this in a single afternoon!

About the Author & the Cover Artist:

79veuN9R_400x400Born and raised in St. Thomas of the US Virgin Islands, Kacen Callender is the award-winning author of the middle-grade novels Hurricane Child and King and the Dragonflies, the young-adult novels This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story and Felix Ever After, and the adult novel Queen of the Conquered.

Kacen was previously an Associate Editor of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, where they acquired and edited novels including Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles, the New York Times bestseller Internment by Samira Ahmed, and the Stonewall Honor award-winning novel Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake.

They enjoy playing RPG video games in their free time, and they really wish they had a dog.

Kacen currently resides in Philadelphia, PA.

Tonya Engel is the cover artist for this stunning book!

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Front Desk

Written by: Kelly Yang

Cover Art by: Maike Plenzke

For ages: Middle Grades YA Book

Language: English, slight Mandarin.

Topics Covered: Immigration, Racism, Friendship, Family, Growing Up.

Summary: Mia Tang and her parents emigrated from China two years before the book begins.  When the book begins, it is summertime in California and the family is living in their car.  Soon, a job opportunity to manage a hotel pops up and the family jumps at the chance.  The owner of the hotel is named Mr. Yao and he is not kind.  He finds every opportunity to withhold paychecks from the family.  He is racist, rude, and Mia does not like him one bit, especially because he won’t let her go swimming in the pool.  The hotel is in a new school district, and when Mia starts the 5th grade she is only 1 of 2 Asian students in the whole grade.  The other is Jason, Mr. Yao’s son.  The pair do not get along.  Mia takes on front desk responsibilities with gusto, and befriends the “weeklies” quickly.  These longtime guests live at the hotel, and together they form a ragtag family.

Mia makes a single friend at school, Lupe.  Lupe and her family are also immigrants, and very poor like Mia’s family.  Other than Lupe, Mia is teased mercilessly.  Mia is hurt, but has other more important things to spend her time doing.  She desperately wants to be a writer, despite her mother telling her to focus on math instead.  Mia begins writing letters to get practice, and comes across an essay contest where the winner receives a small motel in Vermont!  Earning the money for the entry fee, working the front desk, and dealing with Mr. Yao is more than enough for a young girl to handle.  Then her parents begin receiving visitors.  Other immigrants from China that are in much worse states than the Tangs.  Mia’s parents let them stay the night for free at the hotel without Mr. Yao’s knowledge, and feed them.  Soon a system is developed where Mia wears a hat when Mr. Yao is around so people know not to show up.

This book is fascinating, and comes with an extensive Author’s Note detailing many of the events in the book and how they happened to the author herself, in real life!  There are many parallels between Mia and Kelly’s life, as Kelly Yang’s family also managed hotels in California when Kelly was young.  This is an awesome book.  It’s funny, heartfelt, and talks about the strength and resilience found in the immigrant youth experience.

About the Author & the Cover Artist:

Kelly-Yang-300x300-circleKelly Yang is the author of FRONT DESK (Scholastic) and the winner of the 2018 Asian Pacific American Award for Literature. FRONT DESK is an award-winning debut middle grade novel about a 10 year old Chinese American immigrant girl who manages the front desk of a motel while her parents clean the rooms. FRONT DESK was awarded the 2018 Asian Pacific American Award for Literature, the Parents’ Choice Gold Medal, is the 2019 Global Read Aloud, and has earned numerous other honors including being named an Amazon Best Book of the Year, a Washington Post Best Book of the Year, a Kirkus Best Book of the Year, a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, a NPR Best Book of the Year, and a Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of the Year.

 

Kelly immigrated to America when she was 6 years old and grew up in Southern California, where she and her parents worked in three different motels. She eventually left the motels and went to college at the age of 13 and law school at the age of 17. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley, where she majored in Political Science, and Harvard Law School. After law school, she gave up law to pursue her passion of writing and teaching children writing. She is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project (kellyyang.edu.hk), a leading writing and debating program for kids in Asia.

 

As a teacher, Kelly helped thousands of children find their voice and become better writers and more powerful speakers. Before turning to fiction, she was also a columnist for the South China Morning Post for many years. Her writing has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic. She has three children and splits her time between Hong Kong and San Francisco, California. 

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Maike Plenzke and is a freelance illustrator and comic book artist from Berlin.
She loves drawing diverse women and to explore nature in her work.

Curriculum Review: “Choose Your Own Likes” Talking About Stereotypes

Hey all!  We got the opportunity this week to review some curriculum by Jamey Fisher Perkins, which is all about stereotypes! This month’s curriculum is part of her wider “Growing Towards Justice” curriculum set.  We were given a copy of this curriculum to review free of charge, but all opinions are our own. 

The 12 page curriculum covers 6 topics: What’s a Stereotype?; What I Am Like; Free to be Me; There’s No Accounting for Taste: Standing Up for What You Like; Practicing Shifting from the General to the Specific; and Unconscious Gender Bias. We think this is a well-rounded way to look at things, and each topic is specific enough to give an in-depth look at these topics without being overwhelming.  

jacob's new dress
4 of the 6 topics listed above have corresponding activities to do with kids!  They range from poems, art projects, new ideas like being non-binary (we’re SO excited this was included!) and conversation starters.  This wide range ensures that there is something that fits with various likes and dislikes in an activity.  

Although each topic and most activities have specific resources attached to them, there is a master list compiled at the end of the curriculum.  21 children’s books, some music and poetry links, and a list of adult reading material resources for caregivers make up that list.  Having these compiled with the activist and again at the bottom is very helpful, especially for someone who would want to check out the whole stack from the library.  It’s easily copied from the bottom of the curriculum, and the hyperlinks for songs and further readings for caregivers save a lot of time!pronoun-poster-download-image-copyright-maya-gonzalez-800px

Then entire curriculum is written in a very friendly manner!  Some curriculum we have read remains boring, dry, and inaccessible if the reader is unfamiliar with academic language.  This curriculum is decidedly not like that.  We would recommend this curriculum for anyone looking to begin to dismantle the implicit biases that society, school, and the media imparts on everyone beginning in utero!  

We are very much lucky to have been offered a discount code from Jamey if you’re interested in purchasing the annual curriculum subscription and on the Raising Feminist Boys e-course.  That code is: TINY!

Check out Jamey’s work, and let us know what you learn!


Stay Connected with Jamey:

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Footprints in the Snow

Written by: Annahita De La Mare

Illustrated by: Jennifer Kirkham

For ages: 3-8 years

Language: English

Topics Covered: Girls Outdoors, Family, Love, Friendship, Adventure.

Summary: We have arrived at the most recent-but hopefully not final-installment of the Hot Air Balloon Adventure story!  Alice, Hannah, and Rosie are discussing plans over breakfast one morning and grandma has a great idea, to take the balloon to the mountains and splitboard the day away!  A splitboard is like a snowboard, but you can go uphill too.  This sounds like a fantastic way to spend the day outdoors, and every sets off, including Roger the cat.  The group quickly reaches Iceland, and enjoy their time spent up, down, and all around the mountains on their splitboards.  However, after some hot chocolate, the girls discover that their backpack is missing and in its place are massive footprints!  Being the leaders that they are, the cousins follow the path and end up at a cave.  Calling into the darkness, the trio is greeted by a large Yeti named Fred!  Fred took the backpack because he really needed one, but his smile is so scary that whenever he goes into town to buy one everyone runs away.  Alice, Rosie, and Hannah assure Fred that they don’t judge anyone by appearances and help him learn to smile a little less scarily.  The group glides down the mountain and into town so Fred can buy his very own backpack.

This, like all the others have adorable illustrations that capture the fun that these cousins have together while being explorers.  The trio love the outdoors and are kind to every creature they come into contact with.  We can’t wait to see what other adventures these lovely characters get into next!

Reflection Questions:

  • How do you think Fred feels that everyone is afraid of him?
  • How have you helped someone learn a new skill?
  • Why is it important to get to know someone before you judge them, and what they might be like?
  • The girls love to be outside and play sports, what do you like to do?
  • Do you think you would like to go on an adventure with Hannah, Alice, and Rosie?

About the Author & the Illustrator:

6493d270391e0a1200478445f53f5c73_originalWe were lucky enough to interview Annahita earlier this summer!  Here are some excerpts from that interview:

Hi! My name is Annahita, I was born in the UK to an Iranian mother and Welsh father. I moved to Switzerland 11 years ago to be live with my German husband, and together we have two girls (5 and 6 years old) who haven’t got a clue if they are Swiss, German or British 🙂

TTA: What are you passionate about?

A: I am passionate about naturally inclusive children’s books. I believe that fear and prejudice grow out of a lack of knowledge and exposure, and I feel that books are a wonderful way to broaden children’s minds, and introduce them to topics or people that they may not necessarily come across in their daily lives. I also believe that girls should be FAR better represented in children’s books. They need more inspiring role models in positive fictional stories that they can go to sleep dreaming about.

I am also working on re-writes of the traditional princess fairy tales, trying to keep the original magic and delight of the original stories, but just changing silly storylines being all about meeting a prince and getting married. In all of my books I ensure that the characters in the story are a mixture of skin colours, because I believe it’s important not just for children of colour to see themselves in the pages of books, but for white children to see themselves in the pages of books, alongside children of colour with equally important roles in the stories.

Here is some information from her successful Kickstarter campaign:

“My children have been given many books about great women from history over this past year. It’s wonderful to see so many stories of strong and diverse women on the bookshelves. Some publishers have even tried to make versions relevant to younger audiences by reducing the text and using more illustrations. But these stories are still filled with themes which are hard to explain to young children, such as starvation, world war, segregation and sexism.

I know I don’t have to read every word, but I find myself censoring so many of the words that the sentences and the stories no longer make sense. They will learn these themes in school, and when they do, they will have many excellent books to explore the roles played by courageous women during these important periods in history.

But for the younger audience? It’s still incredibly important that younger children are hearing stories about brave and adventurous girls; girls that take risks and work through challenges; who work together as equals and aren’t labelled “tomboys” or “different” just because they handle a screwdriver or climb a tree. But I want these stories to be positive, happy and care-free. I want them to be stories that they can go to sleep dreaming about.

I tried to find stories like these, but they were so few and far between that after reading each of them the requisite 100 times, even my young children started to ask why there weren’t more!

So I started dreaming up new stories. It began with ideas and notes scribbled on scraps of paper, in notebooks, on my computer, on my phone. Eventually the Hot Air Balloon Stories began to take shape…three cousins playing hide and seek, discovering a broken hot air balloon and dreaming of places they could go…

*All* I needed was to find someone to bring to paper the illustrations that I see when I close my eyes. She wasn’t easy to find, but find her I did. When I received that first beautiful illustration from Jennifer Kirkham, I knew she was the perfect person to take the Hot Air Balloon Adventure Stories to the next level.

The under-representation of girls and the complete lack of diversity in children’s books has been a subject of concern for decades. Yet still today, as aware and concerned as we are of gender bias in every day life, children’s books are twice as likely to feature male lead characters than female lead characters. Even today, when 32% of school aged children in the UK are Black, Asian or “other Ethnic Minority”; only 1% of children’s books published in 2017 had main characters that were anything other than white.

In the picture book market for younger children – where seeing oneself in the characters of a book is so important – the traditional publishing industry continues to focus on non-human characters. It is easy to understand why; change the language of the text in a book about a cat, monster or potato and it becomes sellable in any country. But a study of the University of Toronto last year confirmed that children do not learn behaviours or morals from stories with animal characters.

Don’t get me wrong – my children and I absolutely adore many of the wonderful animal (and vegetable!) stories out there. They deserve a place on the bookshelf because they are fun, wonderfully told and beautifully illustrated stories. But studies show that girls start to doubt the brilliance of their own gender at six years of age. We HAVE to balance the bookshelves of younger children with enjoyable stories which clearly carry the message that girls are confident, capable and brilliant. Even if they fly into the odd tree every now and again…”

Screen Shot 2019-06-22 at 12.30.31 PMJennifer Kirkham is a British freelance Illustrator and graduate of the Glasgow School of Art. She credits her love of drawing to the portion of her childhood spent in East Africa, where the local wildlife provided endless inspiration and artistic challenges. 

Now based in the North East of England, Jennifer shares a studio with her cat Heath and dog Scout. She works with a mixture of digital and traditional tools, and gets through an awful lot of podcasts. 

Tutus Aren’t My Style

Written by: Linda Skeers

Illustrated by: Anne Wilsdorf

For ages: 4-7 years

Language: English

Topics Covered: Tomboys, Exploration, Open-Mindedness, Family, Love, Acceptance.

Summary: This book is super cute!  The main character Emma loves playing in the mud, lizards, and climbing trees.  One day, she gets a package from her uncle!  Inside is a tutu and complete ballerina outfit.  Confused, she asks those around her how to be a ballerina.  Some say she must jump a twirl, be delicate and float, and make music.  Instead, all Emma can do is make burping noises and fall over.  Emma decides that maybe she can make her own music and dance moves, instead of take advice from others.  What happens is a routine totally unique to Emma and her life.  She shows this routine to her uncle who surprises her with a visit, and he is very impressed.  He says he never pictured her as a ballerina, which is why he sent her a safari outfit!  The two of them investigate the package he sent, and it turns out the company sent Emma the wrong costume!

This is a sweet story, and a quick read.  Emma is open-minded about trying something she never really considered was for her, and it’s clear her uncle knows her well and supports what she loves.  This is a great book for that lovable tomboy in your life, or to help children be open to a variety of activities.

Reflection Questions:

  • Emma’s uncle seems to know her pretty well. Who knows you the best in your family?
  • Have you ever tried ballet?
  • What did you think about it?
  • Do you think a specific type of person does ballet? Why or why not?

About the Author & the Illustrator:

Skeers_Linda-002_d200Linda Skeers is the author of this book!  Here is her author statement from her website:

I realized the power of the written word before I learned to read. Words were all around me – in books, on signs, TV and cereal boxes. I had high hopes on my first day of kindergarten – finally I would learn to read! We colored. We napped on rugs. Ate graham crackers. Finger painted. Then it was time to go home. We had NOT learned to read and I made my displeasure known – loudly! It earned me a Time Out behind the painting easel.
 Thank goodness for Mrs. O’Connor in first grade. I remember the sheer joy of reading the sentence, “Run, Dick, run.”
 I wrote my first book when I was about 9.
 As a child, I went to the library every Saturday morning. One week I’d check out a stack of books about pioneers, the next week it might be UFOs or ghost stories. Or football. Or mysteries. Or snakes. Or poetry. I still read every night and always have a huge pile of books next to my bed. And in the living room. And the sunroom…
When I wasn’t reading, I was outside exploring the woods, building forts, riding my bike, catching frogs, or playing kickball with the neighbor kids.
 I didn’t think of writing as a career when I was younger. I was encouraged to do something practical like be a nurse or teacher. I always liked helping people so I became a nurse and worked in a hospital and a doctor’s office. But I never forgot how much I loved reading and writing.
Too bad there’s no cure for a bad perm!
After I grew up and got married, my husband and I went camping almost every weekend. Here we are at Backbone State Park – our favorite place!
anne wilsdorfAuthor and illustrator Anne Wilsdorf was born to Alsatian parents in Saint-Paul de Luanda, Angola, in 1954. After a childhood and adolescence spent living in many countries (Angola, Congo, Argentina, Morocco, France, and Belgium), she settled in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1976. There, she began publishing her drawings in newspapers and children¹s publications, followed by her first books. She has continued this path ever since, working with publishers in Switzerland, France, Germany and the United States. Her books, numbering more than twenty, have been translated into numerous languages, most recently into Korean.

Anne Wilsdorf was the Swiss candidate for the prestigious Andersen prize in 2000. Complementing her work as an illustrator.  Anne Wilsdorf has illustrated over 20 books for children, including the Ezra Jack Keats honor book, Sophie’s Squash. Anne currently teaches illustration at l’Ecole Romande des Arts de la Communication in Lousanne.

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me

Written by: Mariko Tamaki

Illustrated by: Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

For ages: YA graphic novel

Language: English

Topics Covered: LGBTQ Relationships, Love, Friendship, Social-Emotional Development.

Summary: Super quick read, I read this in about an hour!  The story is told from the perspective of Freddy, a biracial Asian teenage girl.  Freddy is hopelessly in love with Laura Dean, her on-again off-again unfaithful girlfriend.  Laura is a suave, blond, Shane-esque (from the L-Word) character who seems to like Freddy, but not enough to not continuously cheat on her with other girls.  To the reader, it is clear that Laura keeps Freddy around for when Laura doesn’t have plans, or is bored.  She is cocky and flirtatious, often found having trysts in closets with other girls.  In attempt to clarify what the relationship means, Freddy writes to a love advice columnist for help.  These emails are interspersed within the scenes of daily life with Freddy, her best friend Doodle (who is going through her own emotional issues unbeknownst to Freddy), and a few other queer friends.

As Freddy navigates life, and makes a new queer friend that invites her to a party, Freddy also invites Laura.  Laura never answers her texts, but Freddy sees her at the party kissing another girl.  Finally, Doodle calls Freddy out and gets honest with Freddy about how she has been ignoring their friendship because of Laura.  Doodle has slept with a married man, and is planning to get an abortion.  This is a really great story, getting to the quick of the emotional complexities that often accompany relationships and their impact on friendships.  It is a relief to be able to read queer stories where everyone is already out, and the focus can be on other nuances of the story-line rather than the coming out process itself.  Highly recommend!

About the Author & the Illustrator:

81ve7-jjPwL._US230_Mariko Tamaki is the author of the YA novel Saving Montgomery Sole and the co-creator of award winning comics This One Summer and Skim (with Jillian Tamaki), and Emiko Superstar (Steve Rolston). In 2015, This One Summer received Printz and Caldecott Honors, the Eisner for Best Graphic Album–New, and Canada’s Governor General’s award. Mariko maintains a solid fascination with the complex process by which teenagers become, or try to become, grown ups.

She has also written for BOOM! Studios, Marvel, and DC Comics, working with She-Hulk and Supergirl.

Mariko Tamaki began her career as a playwright and performance artist in Toronto, Ontario, working with fat activists Pretty, Porky and Pissed Off and performing and writing plays for Buddies in Bad Times Theater, a world leader in developing queer voices for the stage.  Her first film, “Happy 16th Birthday, Kevin,” premiered at the Inside Out Festival in 2013.

In addition to her literary work, Mariko holds a Master’s in Women’s Studies and worked for two years on a doctorate in Linguistic Anthropology.  Her academic research focused on accents used in drag cabaret performances.  Her research inspired an ongoing obsession with the way people talk. You can follow her on Twitter.

RVORosemary Valero-O’Connell is a cartoonist and illustrator with a BFA in Comic Art from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She was raised in Zaragoza, Spain, but now lives in a little apartment in the ice and snow of Minnesota, self-publishing her books and working as a freelance illustrator and comic artist. Rosemary’s work has been featured in comics anthologies, in galleries, and on many poster designs for MONDO. Rosemary’s one-shot comic What Is Left (ShortBox) was recently nominated for two Eisner Awards: Best Single Issue and Best Coloring. Rosemary is currently working on the upcoming Mariko Tamaki (Skim, This One Summer) graphic novel Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me for First Second. With her intelligent designs and heartfelt storytelling, this young artist has a bright future ahead.