Picture books about identity and culture like these can help us be better people because they introduce new ways of thinking or prompt reflection leading to personal growth. I love that about books, don’t you?!
Picture Books About Identity and Culture, Summer 2019
I Will Be Fierce! by Bea Birdsong, illustrated by Nidhi Chanani
A little girl uses her imagination to set a positive intention for her school day. She puts on her armor and sets off to explore new worlds, taking on dragons (dogs) and walking with giants (big kids at the school bus stop), climbing the Mountain of Knowledge (library), and standing up for her beliefs (sitting with a lonely girl in the cafeteria). Today she will be the hero of her own story. What an inspiration for young girls everywhere! This picture book shows all the opportunities we have every day to be bold and brave and fierce.
Added to: Essential Back-to-School Books for Kids
Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed, illustrated by Anoosha Syed
Bilal tells his friends all about daal. Together, they carefully prepare the ingredients, then wait as the flavors mix together. While they’re waiting, they play outside. Finally, the daal is ready for more ingredients and the best part of all — eating! This story makes me want to eat daal, too — it’s a lovely introduction to this savory lentil dish from South Asia as well as a warm-hearted example of sharing traditional foods with friends from other cultures. Wonderful!
Honeysmoke A Story of Finding Your Color by Monique Fields, illustrated by Yesenia Moises
Simone wonders what color her skin is — is she black or white? Her musings on her multiracial heritage and identity as well as the need for a word that fits her perfectly feel authentic and relatable. “Simone wants a color, one that shows who she is on the inside and the outside.” She explores and observes. Mama’s skin reminds her of the beehive’s honey while her daddy’s skin looks like smoke from a train. Simone knows that her color is honeysmoke. Readers will find this a beautiful story that encourages important personal reflections.
Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Mendez, illustrated by Jaime Kim
When people ask the little girl where she’s from, she’s puzzled that her reply, “here” is not accepted. She asks Abuelo because he knows everything and “like me, he looks like he doesn’t belong.” Abuelo says she’s from brave, strong gauchos, high mountains, warm, blue oceans, dark storms, sunshine,…but if she wants a place, she is “from my love, the love of all those before us…you are from all of us.” It’s a beautiful celebration of identity that I also hope will inform children (and adults) to not ask this ridiculous question because it makes people feel unwelcome, different, and other. (Instead, invite someone to play.)
A Normal Pig by K-Fai Steele
SELF-ACCEPTANCE / DIVERSITY
At a school in the suburbs, Pig feels different because of her food and the way her family looks. Pig feel self-conscious until she travels to the busy city with her family where she sees and hears more diversity. This gives her perspective and new strength to be proud of who she is. Back at home when other kids say she’s eating a weird lunch, Pig invites them to try it. When her friends like her food, it helps her feel normal. I mostly like this book but I’m not a fan of the word “normal” as it’s such a judgment-loaded word ambiguously defined by whomever is saying it.
The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
CELEBRATION OF BLACK AMERICANS
A moving, emotionally compelling lyrical poem celebrates the strong, unforgettable, hard-working black Americans who persevered through slavery, prejudice, war, civil rights, and who rise up, cool and unbending. It’s a reminder not to forget the past and to notice the amazing strength of a people who have endured and risen. The lush, realistic illustrations feel totally transcendent. Everything about this book is excellent.
My Grandma and Me by Mina Javaherbin, illustrated by Lindsey Yankey
GRANDPARENT / IRAN
Mina writes a beautiful, atmospheric tribute to her grandma in this story of growing up in Iran buying bread, playing, and going to prayers but mostly spending loving time with her grandma. The illustrations with intricate patterns and muted colors set a warm, comforting tone.
Across the Bay by Carlos Aponte (9/2019)
FAMILY / PUERTO RICO
Based on the author/illustrator’s childhood, this is a tender story about little Carlitos who leaves his family’s home to travel across the bay to San Juan and search for his father. His experiences give readers the flavors of Puerto Rico with the old men playing dominoes, a parade with singing and guitars, and kite flying near the castle. Tired from his unproductive search, a park ranger reminds Carlitos that his father will be forever in his memory whether he’s found or not. And Carlitos goes back home to his mama, abuela, and cat. Whimsical, colorful illustrations create a festive yet gentle ambiance.
SumoKitty by David Biedrzycki
HARD WORK / JAPANESE CULTURE
A stray cat adopted into the sumo stable initially gets rid of the mice. But then the cat gets fat, lazy, and– kicked out. Fortunately, this cat meets a helpful wrestler who gives him good advice about training and hard work. The cat takes the advice, transforming into SumoKitty with the life motto, “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” It’s a decent introduction to the sport of Sumo as well as an example of a growth mindset although it wasn’t a particularly compelling plot for me.
Can Princesses Become Astronauts? by Carmela LaVigna Coyle, illustrations by Mike Gordon
The last book in the Do Princesses..? series continues to empower girls in rhyme and playful illustrations that girls can be and do anything. “Can a princess become a yoga instructor? / Or firefighter! Or doctor! Or concert conductor!” The goal is for girls to dream big. Don’t miss Carmela’s first book in the series, Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots? (Hint: the answer is yes, they do!)