Picture Book Blog 4: How To Write Diversity and How Not To.
I’m on to the 4th shelf in my journey through the picture book section at my local library. I’m enjoying the process and discovering so many wonderful books! I’m choosing 5-7 books each week, reading them with my family (which includes kids aged 8 and 10, a parrot who loves to listen to stories, and two adults) and then giving you my thoughts and a rating out of 5.
My Choices This Week
This is the Way We Eat Our Lunch. A Book About Children Around the World by Edith Baer, Illustrated by Steve Björkman
I was so hopeful when I picked this book up. I mean, the title screams cultural/racial diversity. I was excited to see the cultures represented and how it was done. Excited to see authenticity and nuance. Unfortunately, I was disappointed in a few ways. It felt really superficial, the rhyme felt a little forced and the first half of the book was different U.S. states (which is fine, but not exactly “the World” as the title suggests), the latter can be forgiven, considering the audience was probably always primarily American. The second half was various world cultures. I had all but forgiven the superficial feel and annoying rhyme, until I got to “Israel”, on this page we meet Mira and Jamila (Arabic names), in a market full of people wearing Arab style clothing, eating hummus on flat pita bread, an Arab dish. This book was published in 1995, where perhaps awareness of the Middle East conflict was lower, maybe? Maybe they couldn’t say Palestine for some politically correct reason, but wanted to represent the people anyway? Whatever the reason, I was disappointed to see that.
Cock-a-doodle-doo, Creak, Pop-pop, Moo by Jim Aylesworth, Illustrated by Brad Sneed
This book was really fun to read. If the title doesn’t give it away, it is all about onomatopoeia and takes us through a day in the life of a very cheerful family who live on a farm. It’s a lot of fun to read, I love the way it opens with everyone waking up, and closes with everyone falling asleep. It shows a family working together on the farm to take care of the animals and do the jobs that need to be done. A great story of team work and a lot of fun to read together. As we were reading together, the 10-year-old was making the sound effects as I was reading each page and we were all laughing.
4/5 We enjoyed it a lot.
No Such Thing by Ella Bailey
I picked this book up for its bold, unique illustrations (this is often the way I choose books, I definitely do judge them by their covers). It’s a Halloween themed book, which I would usually avoid, at the end of the book it says Happy Halloween, but otherwise, it’s not overtly holiday focused. In the story, we follow a skeptical little girl, who explains the real reasons behind spooky happenings. For example, there are strange shadows and scary noises at night, she turns on the light, and her cat is swatting at a moth. I love how it is subtly comforting for kids who find Halloween spooky or scary, but it was also fun to read and not in-your-face with its message. We read this a few times, both kids enjoyed it and I was not disappointed by the illustrations.
4/5 Loved it!
Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, Illustrated by David Roberts
If you’ve been reading each week, you’re probably noticing a pattern with my choices, I take particular interest in books that have oft-underrepresented characters, whether they’re racially diverse, culturally, religiously, disability-wise, gender-role-wise (like this book) etc. I want to read a variety and I want to showcase the diversity that is out there, because it can be hard to find.
I picked up this book, because it’s a little girl engineer! I mean, how could I not? I knew my science-loving 10yo girl would love it, and I knew my engineer wannabe 8yo son would love it too, and it’s great for both of them to see strong female characters. I was excited, and the book did not disappoint! I suspected it had something to do with Rosie the Riveter (the “We Can Do It!” woman from the famous WWII poster) and I was right. We meet a little girl who is a bit quieter, and a bit different from her classmates, she collects things from the rubbish/trash and off the group, takes them home, and makes all sorts of secret contraptions with them. At some point, she makes something for her favorite uncle, and he laughs at how ridiculous it is. My heart broke, that’s the perfect way to destroy creativity and exploration, poor Rosie! Her heart broke too and she stopped showing her inventions to people. That is, until her great-aunt (her “oldest relative”) came to visit! She was adventurous and accomplished and unafraid! She inspired Rosie to build again but when Rosie showed her what she’d built and it didn’t work quite as planned, the oldest relative laughed! All our hearts sank, Rosie was defeated… only, this time, the relative was laughing in a good way! She encouraged Rosie and taught her that failure is a necessary part of success. Rosie went on to inspire her class to build things too and the final illustration is of all the kids happily playing with their contraptions! I can’t say enough how much I love this story! The illustrations are really fun and unique, the people represented are diverse and representative, the back of the book has a historical note where we learn about the real Rosie the Riveter. If you have little humans, click the title of the book above and get a copy for your home library! That’s how good it is.
5/5 Buy it!
Old Black Fly by Jim Aylesworth, Illustrations by Stephen Gammell
One word: Hilarious! This is an alphabet book, but not your typical alphabet book! We follow this old black fly as he gets into everything in the house, dances on the edge of the garbage bag, plays on a vase, gets honey on his back. We all laughed out way through this book! The illustrations are fun and funny, everything in the book is just so typically fly. Just a super fun book!
My Sister’s Rusty Bike by Jim Aylesworth, Illustrated by Richard Hull
It was a coincidence that I picked up 3 of this authors books, but I’m glad I did! The illustrators for each one do such a brilliant job, the writing is clever and witty and fun. Just, a great author! This story is a journey around the United States, that a man takes on, you guessed it, his sister’s rusty bike. We learn the name of one place in each state he visits, and each time, we’re told about a quirky person who lives there (the places are real, but I don’t think there’s really a person with pigs who dance jigs). Another really fun book, definitely check out this authors books when you’re at the library or bookstore next time, or click the title to check them out on Amazon.
4/5 Fun and quirky.
My Light by Molly Bang
Science! I love science picture books! This one was really sweet and airy, almost spiritual feeling, but also completely about energy and how it works, and how it comes from the sun. It’s actually narrated by the sun, which is interesting on its own. The illustrations are absolutely lovely, contrasted and boldly colored, just very, very fun to look at. We start off with a description of the water cycle and how the sun’s heat facilitates that, we go on to learn about how humans utilize this energy to make electricity, how plants use the sun’s energy for food, we even hear about solar panels and wind turbines. All of it is written in a very smooth, child friendly way. Really, very enjoyable, flows well, teaches all about energy. This should absolutely be on any science lovers bookshelf!
5/5 Absolutely lovely!
Bonus Book (Not From The Shelf)
Home by Carson Ellis
This book is kind of interesting. There are things I don’t love about it, but that can also, maybe, be explained by the fact that it’s a marriage of reality and fairytale. It’s written by an artist and the book is heavily illustration based. The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous! It does a great job of representing different people and showing us all the different places where people might live. In the middle of it all, it also shows mythological and fairytale places (like Atlantis and the old woman who lived in a shoe), which at first I didn’t love, but by the end I really did. Some of the cultural representation was a little bothersome, for example, I’m pretty sure the “underground lairs” home, which shows a woman lounging on gold and two men with a lamp and money, who are all obviously “Arab”, was meant to be from Aladdin, but it was still a bit off-putting for me, as the mother of Arab kids and someone who is aware of the problematic image of Arabs in movies and media. Similar caveats about Indian and Native American images in the book as well. Otherwise, I really thought it was a beautiful book, a lovely attempt at showing that home can mean many things and many different places.
3.5/5 Loved it but with caveats.
She is author of How Big Is Allah? and How Does Allah Look? and founder of Creative Muslim Women.
Emma converted to Islam as a teenager and currently lives in Chicago with her husband, daughter, son and Ash the parrot. She only reads books that have lots of pictures, loves to look at planets through her telescope and is a big fan of yellow and Star Trek.
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