Spring 2018 Picture Books About Identity, Inclusion, & Diverse Cultures
IslandBorn by Junot Díaz, illustrated by Leo Espinosa
Díaz captures Lola’s heart-felt longing to remember the island of her birthplace for a school assignment. She left the island as a baby so she can’t remember. Lola interviews her family and friends, listening to their snap-shot, detailed stories of the island’s bats, music, agua de coco, heat, and the Devil Monster. Through their stories, she creates her own tapestry of her island that will always be in her heart and heritage. Stunning illustrations explode in colorful exhuberance on every page.
Drawn Together by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat
ART / CONNECTION
Oh, my goodness! What stunning artwork in a book about how art brings together two generations separated by language and age. Mostly wordless, this is almost a graphic novel with comic-style panels. A boy arrives at his grandfather’s house. He’s frustrated because his grandfather doesn’t speak English. The two eat in silence. Then the boy begins drawing himself as a caped-superhero. Excited, his grandfather draws himself as superhero — one garbed in what may be a traditional Thai ceremonial dress. (I’m not totally sure.) Their connection continues through art — each with his own style. It’s beautiful of so many levels, metaphorically and literally.
Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes by Hen Khan, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini
SHAPES / MUSLIM CULTURE
I can not get over how amazing the art is in this book. Lavish, richly colored illustrations immediately drew me in to this beautiful book of shapes from a Muslim perspective. “Hexagon is a tile, / bold and bright, / painted with an ayah / I love to recite.” Learn about the geometric shapes like circles, squares, and octagons from the daily life and architecture of someone who is Muslim.
Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal
Just Like Brothers by Elizabeth Baguley, illustrated by Aurelie Blanz
PREJUDICE / ACCEPTANCE
Lush illustrations and lyrical text tell the redemptive story of a young boy whose mother warns him of the wild wolves in the forest while simultaneously, a wolf cub’s mother warns him of the rough humans. Neither boy nor cub pay too much attention. They’re too busy chasing rabbits. When they get lost and meet, they’ll discover that their preconceived ideas were wrong. “And soon they’re chasing rabbits, / playing hide-find and tumble-ball, / all wide-smile and wag-tail.” The story ends with the mothers coming together in trust. You will love this BEAUTIFUL message of acceptance and understanding!!! (Also, the fabulous word combinations make this an excellent mentor text for writing workshop.)
Marwan’s Journey by Patricia de Arias, illustrated by Laura Borras
REFUGEE / MIGRATION
This is one of the best refugee experience picture books I’ve read. We can only imagine where this boy comes from… He walks away from his homeland with very few things carried on his back. Precise, sensory text perfectly narrates this little boy’s difficult journey… “Sometimes, in the cold right, I cry out to her in my dreams. / She comes with her black hair streaming, and tucks me in / with her flour-soft hands.” What imagery, right!? As the boy walks, he remembers his home. He remembers when they came. And all the walking. “One… / two… / three… / A line of humans like ants / crossing the desert.” He hopes that one day he will return home.
The Field by Baptiste Paul, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcantara
PLAY / CARIBBEAN CULTURE
This enchanting picture book celebrates the joy of kids playing soccer (futbol) — in a green field on a Caribbean island. They get set up and start to play but the rain comes pouring down. Will they play on? Of course they will! At least until their mamas calls them home at the end of the day. Multi-lingual text in English and Creole give this story a rich, unique flavor. Aren’t these illustrations vibrant?!
I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness by Kerascoët
KINDNESS / BULLYING
When a classmate is being bullied, what can you do? This wordless picture book shows that sometimes it’s about showing someone that they are not alone. You can do what this girl does: show kindness and walk home with a lonely, hurting person.
My Hair is a Garden by Cozbi A. Caberera
IDENTITY / ACCEPTANCE
If you’re like me, you might wonder why the little girl who is worried about her messy hair goes to the neighbor instead of her mom. (Which could be for a lot of reasons… I just want to know!) But if you put that question aside, you’ll get a sweet story about accepting your unique beauty just like the plants in a garden who are unique, beautiful, and require cultivation. “My hair is a garden. And like every good garden, it must be / cared for, every day.” Back matter explains more on how to care for black hair.
BIRTHDAY / KOREAN CULTURE
Hazel is excited for Twig’s first birthday. As the two prepare for the party and friends and family arrive, she explains how at Twig’s first birthday called a doljabi, Twig will get to pick something that signifies her life’s path. Twig’s choice surprises everyone! What will it mean? They’ll have to wait and see. Muted watercolor illustrations with a sweet sister story illuminates this special Korean cultural tradition.
A Lion is a Lion by Polly Dunbar
IDENTITY / STANDING UP FOR YOURSELF
“Is a lion still a lion if . . . / he wears a hat?” The lion wears a hat, plays and dances with the children, and joins them for lunch. But when he shows his big teeth and looks ready to bite, the kids say NO. “You may NOT hang up / your hat or wipe your feet. / You can take your umbrella, too! / And never mind Aunt Sue! No, you may NOT / come in —“
The Town of Turtle by Michelle Cuevas, illustrated by Catia Chien
DIVERISITY / INCLUSION
This story invites you to consider what you would do if you were lonely. (And maybe after reading the book, you’ll build your own world, too.) Turtle dreams about a better, less lonely home. He decides to decorate his shell. Then he keeps going — building a pond, a school, a park, and houses. Finished, Turtle sleeps. That’s when other, diverse folks notice and begin to move in to Turtle’s colorful new town. When Turtle wakes up, he is shocked and delighted to see so many new friends. “Sometimes, thought Turtle, the world you dream can come alive all around you.”
Pink is for Boys by Robb Pearlman, illustrated by Eda Kaban
COLORS / INCLUSION
Initially, I worried this book would be pedantic but thankfully, it’s not! It’s really a book about colors. We all know that both boys and girls can like any color. This book just explicitly states it. (The title is maybe a little misleading?) Every color is for both girls and for boys and the author also lists something else it is that color (baseball uniforms, grass to run on, or bows on fancy clothes.) “Pink is for boys. / And girls. // And bows on fancy clothes.”
Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
Wow — the artwork in this book is exquisite. Kudos to Jessica Love! Julián wants to look like the mermaids he sees on the subway — so he dressed up. We wonder what his abuela will think. She’s accepting, gives him a necklace, and takes him to the beach where there’s a mermaid parade.
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