Category Archives: multicultural

I Just Want To Say Good Night

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I Just Want To Say Good Night

This colorful and entertaining picture book is a perfect bedtime story for all ages.  I Just Want To Say Goodnight incorporates the universal story of a child procrastinating their bedtime through a multicultural lens.  The bright and vibrant colors of the illustrations capture the setting in the African village beautifully, while demonstrating sentiment and emotion through the characters as well.  In addition, this book is notably a Caldecott Honor winner.

The book begins with the young girl Lala greeting her father and asking about his day.  The illustrations use the coloring of the sky to indicate that the sun is setting and it is almost the end of the day.  When Lala’s father tells her it is time for bed, she explains that she wants to say good night to a few animals in the village.  She says good night to the fish, the cat, the ants, etc.

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My favorite illustration throughout the book is the double page spread where Lala is saying good night to the monkey.  She kindly bends down to the little monkey’s level and offers him a flower.  The illustration is set with a bright pink and purple sky, and the sun close to the horizon.

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The concept of time passing, and night-time approaching, is wonderfully represented through the illustrations.  As the reader delves deeper into the story, the illustrated sky goes from sunset, to dusk, and then night.  Not only does the sky get darker, but the lighting and contrast in the rest of the illustration develops too.  Lala becomes more of a silhouette as the sky darkens, and shadows begin to appear.

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As time goes on, Lala has difficulty finding anything left to say good night too.  She finally says good nigh to a rock before following her Mama into the house.  Once in bed, she grabs her bed time book, in which the illustration and text both allude to the famous, and classic, bed time board book, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.

Author and Illustrator, Rachel Isadora is well-known for her wonderful children’s books in which she seamlessly incorporates playful and relatable stories in African settings and backgrounds.  She truly does a remarkable job of creating books with multicultural themes that children of all ages and ethnicities can thoroughly enjoy.  I absolutely loved this book, for its child-like humor and magnificent pictures, and would recommend it to any parent, family member, or caretaker that is looking for a fun and new book to read during bed time.

 

Casey Quinn

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Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix

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by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee, illustrated by Man One

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Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix is a kid-friendly biography of Roy Choi, a famous food truck chef who was born in Seoul, South Korea. The book recounts how Roy and his family moved to Los Angeles when he was two years old and how his experience as an immigrant influenced his upbringing. His mom made traditional Korean food like kimchi, and bibimbap; her food was so good that Roy’s family opened up their very own restaurant. Roy loved having Dumpling Time at the restaurant, where the whole family would sit down together and fold the dumplings to be cooked later that day. The book discusses how Roy’s parents closed their restaurant and had a more successful life in the jewelry business. Even with this prosperity, Roy felt like more of an outcast without the cultural anchor of the restaurant in his life. He eventually found his place in culinary school and started working in fancy restaurants. After a while, a friend encouraged him to open a Korean taco truck. Roy wanted to “remix the tastes” that were so important to him, combining traditional Korean flavors with dishes that everyone would love. He opened Kogi BBQ Truck, and at first people scoffed at the idea. Eventually, the food truck became very successful, and Roy loved seeing how his food brought diverse people together. Kogi expanded to a whole fleet of food trucks, and Roy even opened a restaurant called Locol in an underserved neighborhood. The book ends with Roy showing other people how to make their own food and cook with sohn-maash, or love.

Man One created the illustrations for this book in an incredibly unique way. He spray-painted canvases to create the backgrounds, then digitally uploaded them. He added in pencil drawings of people and all the landscape details, resulting in vibrant and alluring pictures throughout the book. Even the endpapers show images of ramen noodles, a small detail that really ties into the heart of the biography. I love how the authors included explanations of Korean words and foods that I wouldn’t have otherwise known. This allows them to tell the story in an authentic way, not dumbing it down or “Americanizing” it, while still allowing the reader access to all of the important concepts. I also appreciate that the authors didn’t glorify Roy Choi’s experience. They include parts about how isolated and different he felt, and how he lost his job at a fancy restaurant before opening his food truck. They also mention the doubt, based in racism, that people had of Roy’s idea. The inclusion of “Korean guys can’t do tacos” in the dialogue of the book underscores how stereotypes influence every aspect of our culture, including our thoughts about food. Roy Choi is an honorable person in my eyes; he became very successful and purposefully chose to continue serving people instead of making his food exclusive to the wealthy. He could have easily chosen to open a restaurant with a months-long waiting list, but he decided to make his food accessible to everyone. Roy serves as a great role model for children for a variety of reasons. He overcame the challenges of being different than most people in LA, chose a challenging and unconventional path to follow his passion, and gives back to the community when he is able. Overall, this is a sweet biography of a man who didn’t take no for an answer and persevered until he reached his goal.

Maddie Geller

Pattan’s Pumpkin: A Traditional Flood Story from Southern India

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Pattan’s Pumpkin: A Traditional Flood Story from Southern India

Chitra Soundar and Frané Lessac have adapted a traditional Irula story to make it more accessible: turning the traditional churraka into a pumpkin and highlighting the story’s universal themes.

The story does, not, however, abandon its cultural roots. It is authentic in its language, retaining the Indian names Pattan and Kanni and placing the tale at the base not of any old mountain range but of the Sahyadri Mountains. Pattan and Kanni are illustrated with the characteristic dark skin of the Irula people and are dressed in traditional garb. Soundar also does not shy away from describing the details of Pattan and Kanni’s way of life as they grow pepper, rice, nutmeg, and bananas; ride elephants; and nurture animals in the foothills of South India’s mountains. As any culturally diverse book should, Pattan’s Pumpkin presents its characters positively: clever, resourceful, grateful for what they have, kind, and willing to share. These characteristics not only help children understand cultures beyond their own as positive but also model values for the children themselves!

Lessac’s pictures are as bright as the spirit of Pattan himself. The colors – oranges, yellows, reds, greens – pop off the page and bring the story to life. The use of full-page spreads accentuates the size of the pumpkin, sure to make any child shriek with shock and delight, and the landscapes are rich and vivid in their scope.

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Lessac’s spread toward the end of the story is lush green and deep black, dotted with every color in between. A picture does not do these colors justice!

Pattan’s Pumpkin comes together to tell not only an entertaining, engaging story but one that is valuable in any lesson on geography, history, culture, or even religion.

-Addison

The People Shall Continue/ El Pueblo Seguirá

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The People Shall Continue is a story that tells the history and plights of the indigenous people of America. It was written by Simon J. Ortiz who is a part of the Acoma Pueblo Tribe, and illustrated by Sharol Graves. Originally published in 1977, for its 40th anniversary they republished this special edition in both English and Spanish.

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Told from a third-person perspective, the book begins with how the world came to be. Many years ago, everything was created, and the People were also born. Some say that the People came from many different places, and they went to live in the North, South, East, and West. They had all different jobs, from fishermen to artisans. They were healers and leaders, and they all agreed to take care of the Earth which is the source of all life.            Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 1.28.39 PM.png

The People, which is how the indigenous people refer to themselves, would visit each other’s lands, and when arguments took place their leaders would remind them that they had to respect one another. Life was hard for them, and when famines or droughts would take place they reminded themselves that they could not take anything for granted and in order to continue, they had to struggle hard for life.            Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 1.29.30 PM.png

One day something strange started to happen. Men came on the oceans to the Western Coasts. They were strange red-haired men, and they did not stay long. The People then began to hear fearful stories of these strange Spanish men who caused destruction amongst the People. More and more white people came and made treaties with the People to stop their armed fight. The People agreed to live on reservations which had poor land and not much to hunt.          Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 1.28.31 PM.png

Soon more Americans came and wanted to take the land that the People lived on and change the way that the People lived. They took the children from their families and sent them to schools that were far away. They moved the people into cities across the US, and all the while the People remembered who they were.          Screen Shot 2017-10-30 at 1.29.16 PM

The People looked around them and saw people of all different races and ethnicities being kept down by American power. They realized that they had to share their history with these people as well. They shared their struggles and that they shall continue.

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This book is colorful and weaves the intricate story of the plight of indigenous people in a way that is easily accessible to children without sugar-coating the struggles that they faced.

Jamie Williams

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe

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Radiant Child won both the 2017 Caldecott Medal and the 2017 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for Javaka Steptoe’s ingenious illustrations. He painted the images on reclaimed wood, photographing his masterpieces to accompany the text of the book. The book recounts the life of Jean-Michel Basquiat, a young boy from Brooklyn who became a successful street artist, signing his work under the name SAMO©. Basquiat was born to a Haitian father and a Puerto Rican-American mother. His mother always supported him in his art, even bringing him a copy of Gray’s Anatomy with which to practice drawing human forms, after he was hospitalized from a car accident. Matilde, Jean-Michel’s mother, is separated from her son due to mental health issues, but he visits her throughout the book. Jean-Michel is relentless in his search to create meaningful art, eventually finding success in creating street art. The art was “still not neat or clean and definitely not inside the lines, but somehow still beautiful.” The book investigates the crown motif in Basquiat’s art, since he considered himself and others as kings. The book ends on a positive note, with Jean-Michel “making it” as an artist.

I think this is a valuable book for a teacher of any grade level or subject to have in the classroom library. With young children, a standard read-aloud will teach them about an often-forgotten American artist, while introducing them to the genre of biographies. Older children can learn more about the struggles of Basquiat’s life, including his drug addiction, through the author’s note at the end of the book, as well as through supplemental resources. Art teachers can further investigate the motifs in Basquiat’s art like crowns, eyes, and cars. Art lessons could also center around Steptoe’s unique illustration style. Secondary social studies teachers can explore the racially-related reasons why Basquiat is generally remembered as a drug addict who caught a lucky break, rather than a genius young artist who was swept up in the times. This book explores so many themes on a differentiated level. Older learners could study mental health issues in a deeper way, including how Basquiat’s difficult relationship with his mother may have influenced his art. In general, this book teaches a great view of what art is. Steptoe writes about art as being present everywhere, not just specific styles in museums. Street art is seen by many as disrespectful vandalism, but this book directly challenges that idea. The biography’s message that hard work is key to success is applicable to any student. Overall, this is one of my new favorite books, and I will be buying a copy for my classroom.

Maddie Geller

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Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

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Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez, tells the story of Arturo Schomburg, a black man living in the Harlem Renaissance. Schomburg collected books, music, art, and other works from Africa and people of African descent to bring to light these often forgotten historical documents and figures. The book follows Arturo’s life from a young black boy in Puerto Rico, curious about the contributions his ancestors made to history, through his journey to New York, and his years of researching and collecting the artifacts of “Africa’s sons and daughters.” When his collection became too big for him to keep, he sold it to the New York Public Library, where it soon became the “cornerstone of the Division of Negro History, Literature and Prints.” Arturo Schomburg left a legacy that lives on today; his work has acted as a beacon for scholars all over the world. Through the use of poetry with titles reflecting both the different chapters of Schomburg’s life and the many black historical figures whose work he collected, as well as amazingly realistic illustrations, Schomburg beautifully captures the essence of a man who was always busy working to make sure that his people had their rightful place in history. Written for an older elementary school audience, the book also extends the prime picture book age to include these older children.

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Schomburg gives readers short biographies of many black historical figures, some of whom are well-known today for their contributions to the history of our country. However, while many of these men and women have become household names, their full stories often go untold. The book attempts to bring light to some of the lesser-known aspects of their lives.

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In addition to giving readers more details about many already well-known black historical figures, Schomburg also features many “whitewashed” historical figures: those who were descended from slaves or of African descent but whose ties to Africa are left out of popular history.

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The book ends by returning to focus on the life and legacy of Schomburg himself. As written in the final poem of the book, “Epitaph: 1938”: “There was no field of human endeavor / that he did not till with his determined hand… / or that he did not water with a growing sense / of African heritage and awareness.”

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This book is sorely needed in the world of children’s literature, because it features not only a wide range of black historical figures and those with African heritage, but also the man who made sure that these men and women had their rightful place in history. This book should be read in all schools to ensure that the youth of today get to know this incredible man, and that they can feel the pride of seeing themselves represented in history.

Maya Creamer

Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee!

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Andrea J. Loney and Keith Mallett’s New Voices Award Winner Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! is one that, according to author Loney herself, “celebrate[s] the humanity of all children.” In this case, the child celebrated is James VanDerZee, an African-American boy born in 1886 to the former butler and maid of President Ulysses S. Grant. James himself, however, has a different future in mind: He wants to be an artist. James craves a way to “share the beauty he [sees] in his heart,” but his drawings of people never turn out quite right…so he ends up entering and winning a contest for his very own camera. Here, James does something quite mature: he neither gives up on a dream nor remains desperately grasping at an impossibility, instead adapting his plan as he sees and learns new things. Such a nuanced message is not often found in children’s books, and I wonder whether its poignancy stems from the fact that the story of James VanDerZee is a true one.

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James craves a way to “share the beauty he [sees] in his heart.”

This authenticity is evident in Mallett’s artistry as well. Illustrations in a book that centers on the life of an artist have high expectations to meet – but these delightful images deliver. The pictures of James with his camera are almost reverent, a beautiful glow from the device lighting James’ body and face so that he melts like butter against the soft, dark backdrop of the page.

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But the book is not all beauty and light. Loney does not shy away from reality, acknowledging in no uncertain terms the racism that James faces. I admire her willingness to speak of “segregation,” of the way that 19th century “customers would not want their portraits taken by a black man” – and also the way that Loney is able to illustrate resilience of black people in the face of these obstacles. James’ foray into the Harlem Renaissance comes alongside vivid depictions that are as jubilant as the “cultural celebration” itself.

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The book ends with a historical exploration: real photographs, as well as information about James that was not found in the book. It is always my hope that this type of story, told compellingly, will engage children not only in literacy and reading but in history and activism as well; the notes at the end of Take A Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! are ideal to pique a child’s interest in research after being drawn into James’ life through the narrative. 

-Addison Armstrong