Multicultural Children's Book Day
January 27 is Multicultural Children's Book Day. In honor of that day, we are sharing some picture books with diverse characters that we have at home. Of course there are many other great books out there (and more to come!) but I wanted to share the ones we have at home. (It's also Chinese New Year this Saturday, so if you wanted to check out some books related to that holiday, please see Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin (Yes, the same Grace Lin of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon), My First Chinese New Year by Karen Katz, or Chelsea's Chinese New Year by Lisa Bullard. Next week, I'm hoping to review a few middle grade and YA novels with diverse, multicultural main characters. Yes, MAIN characters, not the sidekick.
The Hello Goodbye Window
The Hello Goodbye Window by Norton Juster and illustrated by Chris Rashcka: I’ve mentioned this book many times before, including recently when I wrote about books that promote thought. I grew up with my Lola and Lolo (grandparents in Tagalog) and was very close to them. So I understand just how special it is when the little girl goes to visit her Nonni and Papa in The Hello Goodbye Window. And though I didn’t grow up in a mixed household (debatable since my dad is Chinese and my mom is Filipino, a big no-no at one time in the Philippines), I love that the grandparents just happen to be a mixed couple. And my kids are mixed too, albeit in a different way. (snippet review taken from my list of 12 Must-Have Picture Books)
Chris Rashcka received the Caldecott Medal for The Hello Goodbye Window in 2006, and it's well-deserved. The illustrations are lively and bright, and the nuances in each of the characters is delightful. It's a special book to read with young ones, especially with their grandparents.
Oscar's Half Birthday
Oscar's Half Birthday is one of my favorite picture books of all time. Bob Graham has a gift for depicting the heart of a family, whether it is Oscar's family or family of tooth fairies (April and Esme Tooth Fairies). Oscar's family is going on a picnic to celebrate his six month birthday.
My favorite line:
"Oscar frowns in the dim light-six different expressions on his face in the time it takes a leaf to fall."
Graham's illustrations are wonderfully outside-the-box. I feel like I'm walking through an actual city--imperfections and all. So there's street art/graffiti on the walls and his parents don't dress in a typical fashion. And, his family just happens to be a mixed family. I love the dinosaur versus fairy wing dichotomy of Oscar's older sister, Millie, and the love the exudes from all four family members. This book reads almost like a slice-of-life of Oscar's family, the day just happens to be Oscar's half birthday.
I remember singing happy birthday to Mini Me exactly one week after she was born. And every single month until she turned 1. So I love the idea that this family just can't wait until Oscar's actual birthday to celebrate. And why not? Life is too short not to appreciate all of its little and big moments.
Rating: I'm not sure that I can give these two books a rating because I've already said they are two of my favorites! So, they belong on the lowest bookshelf, of course.
Ages: I always say it's never too young to start to read to your little ones--we read to our bookworm girls as soon as they were born. But, picture books can be delicate and every toddler is different. So if your two year old can sit still, you can try both of these books, but Oscar's Half Birthday is longer than The Hello Goodbye Window. I may need to get the latter book for Monkey and Piggie (my two year old nephew and niece) because Piggie is obsessed with her Grandpapa. If any of us Facetime with her, she immediately demands to know where her 'Papapa' is....even though we don't live with him. I think she just thinks Grandpapa belongs on her screen ALL the time. Which reminds me of when Mini Me was a small toddler and though that GPP lived behind our front door.
Whether you choose one of these two books or another picture book (or chapter book etc), I urge you to look for a new book for your little ones that feature a minority as the main character.
No matter your background, it's nice to learn about different people and cultures and to see that multicultural/diverse characters belong in our books, in our songs, in our poems, in our films and tv shows, and in our art. This is one reason why I love the television sitcom Fresh Off the Boat even though it was controversial between Eddie Huang (whose memoir the show is inspired by) and the tv production team/producers. Because even though the Huangs aren't exactly telling MY story, I like that people can see that Asians are regular people. Each of the characters are defying your typical stereotypical Asian-American norm--Eddie loves hip hop and doesn't get top grades (necessarily). And Mrs. Huang (played by Constance Wu) is her own form of Woman Warrior and never fails to make me laugh--though I do admit she DOES somewhat play a stereotypical tiger mom.
And, look, all the characters are actually played by Asian actors! If you followed along with me on this tangent, let me slide it a little further and urge you to check out this hilarious (and informative) link. It's Michelle Villemaire of Homemade Mimi attempting to correct 'Yellowface'. She dresses up as various Asian tv/film characters who were played by non-Asian actors.