Own Story Narratives: African American and Multiracial Authors Give Their Perspectives in 2019 Children’s Literature

In 2019, we hope to see an increase of stories told by diverse authors that offer their perspectives and speak to their experiences. From our current collection, here are four children’s books written and illustrated by African American and multiracial authors. These stories tell the tale of a mother’s love, recognize the persistence, bravery, and excellence of African American heroes, show the journey of finding your identity and your color in the world, and inspire readers with the story of a brave and talented African American women who blazed trails for others.

 

mommy medicineMy Mommy Medicine
Written by Edwidge Danticat
Illustrated by Shannon Wright
Macmillan, 2019

When our narrator, a young African American girl, wakes up feeling sick, gloomy, or sad, her mother gives her a good dose of “mommy medicine” to make her feel better. This medicine is always different from day to day. Sometimes, it’s a kiss on the cheek and a tight hug, or it’s her favorite squash soup, or a big, delicious mug of hot chocolate. Through fun games, a little magic and imagination, and lots of quality time with mom, our narrator starts to feel better. Mommy medicine can make her feel great even on the worst days!

Edwidge Danticat, the mother of two daughters, tells a beautiful tale of how love and comfort can heal. She speaks from her own experience taking care of her daughters, nieces, and nephews. While the story is about a mother and daughter, Edwidge feels that mommy medicine can come from anyone trying to make someone they love feel better.

 

undefeatedThe Undefeated
Written by Kwame Alexander
Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019

In Kwame Alexander’s powerful poem turned children’s book, readers hear the stories of many African Americans who have done unbelievable things. They have overcome hurdles and stood strong in the face of unspeakable tragedy, coming out undefeated. Featuring athletes like Jesse Owens, Serena Williams, and Muhammad Ali, musicians such as Ella Fitzgerald and Thelonious Monk, the activists of the civil rights movements, and many more, Alexander shines a light on many heroes that are too often left out of our history books. Recognizing the bravery of the slaves who fought for freedom and those who continue to fight for black lives today, Alexander writes a moving tribute to African Americans who remain undefeated.

Kwame Alexander is a New York Times best-selling author that often tells the stories of African Americans. He has won both a Newberry Medal and a Coretta Scott King Book Award for his own story narratives. Alexander began writing the poem that inspired The Undefeated as a tribute to his daughters and as a response to the election of President Obama—he wanted to show the world how African American heroes paved the way to that historic moment.

 

honeysmokeHoneysmoke: A Story of Finding Your Color
Written by Monique Fields
Illustrated by Yesenia Moises
Imprint Publishing, 2019

Simone, a multiracial child, wants to know what her color is. When she asks her mama if she is black or white, she says that color is just a word. But Simone wants her own word. When she asks her daddy, he says she’s a little bit of both. But Simone wants a color to call her own. In the world around her, Simone cannot find a color that matches her and reflects who she is inside and out. When thinking about colors, Simone notices that her mama reminds her of golden honey, and her daddy reminds her of white smoke. This makes her honeysmoke, a color all her own! Simone now sees her color in the world around her every day and is proud of her own skin.

Monique Fields, author, journalist, and mother of two daughters, is dedicated to helping multiracial children feel seen in the world of children’s literature. She is the founder of honeysmoke.com, a site with resources for parents raising multiracial children. She hopes that all children will see the beauty in their own color as Simone did!

 

brave ballerinaBrave Ballerina: The Story of Janet Collins
Written by Michelle Meadows
Illustrated by Ebony Glenn
Henry Holt, 2019

This is the story of Janet Collins, an African American dancer full of grace, who dreamed of becoming a ballerina during segregation in the 1930s and 1940s. Collins worked hard and persisted, taking private lessons when dance classes would not accept her, and refusing to lighten her skin to blend in with other ballerinas, giving up her chance to dance with a ballet company. Janet never gave up on her dream. Her talent, grace, and bravery finally paid off when Janet got the chance to shine on stage as a Prima Ballerina in 1951.

Michelle Meadows, a childhood ballerina who fell in love with dance again in adulthood, crafts a lyrical tribute to Janet’s journey. Beautifully written and illustrated, Meadows and Glenn’s work sets out to inspire the next generation of persistent prima ballerinas and brave trailblazers.

Today’s guest poster is Abby Sauer, a senior in studying Corporate Communications at Dominican University. Abby utilized the BCLC collections and resources for her Capstone project on diversity in picture books. Keep an eye out for the rest of her series of Butler’s Pantry posts on the topic. Thanks, Abby!

Duty, Loyalty, Love: A Review of Empress of All Seasons

 

Empress of All Seasons

Empress of All Seasons
Emiko Jean
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, November 2018

As per tradition, when the land of Honoku needs a new empress, a competition is held. All eligible women are invited, and the one who survives each of the four enchanted seasonal rooms is deemed worthy of the title of Empress of Honoku and position next to Taro, the prince next in line to be emperor. Mari has trained for this competition since childhood, though as yōkai she is technically ineligible to compete. Yōkai, supernatural beings, are under threat and enslaved by the current emperor. But Mari cares little about the rules or the prince – she competes for the power of being empress, and to bring change to Honoku from within. Taro himself doesn’t enjoy being a prize to be won, and cares little about his power – he would rather spend time in his lab with his mechanical inventions. Akira, another yōkai and friend of Mari, works to overthrow the Emperor from the outside while Mari keeps her true identity hidden to join the competition. Taro may just become their greatest ally, if they can learn to trust each other when their identities and motivations are revealed.

A detailed world and political structure along with multiple perspectives gives this fantasy novel depth and puts the reader at the immediacy of the action. Inspired by her Japanese heritage, Jean has created an escape for readers that questions the sacrifices made for duty and love, and challenges the notion of tradition as a value to be upheld.

Where Do You Fit In? A Review of Click

Click

Click by Kayla Miller
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 2019
Ages 10-13

In Kayla Miller’s Click, the variety show is coming up at school and outgoing Olive has not been asked to join a group. This leaves her feeling outcast and alone when she is unable to find her own “click.” Olive refuses her mom’s help to find a group, instead turning to her Aunt Molly. She decides the best choice is to become a host, the talent show announcer. In her words, “It would be a way that I could help all of my friends with their acts by introducing them” (p.132). This story was heartfelt and cute with bright colored pastel artwork which suggest that the tone is cheerful. The digital medium conveys the lively tone through expressive faces and flat simplistic backgrounds with bold highlight lines. The novel does a wonderful job touching on family relationships, specifically mother and daughter. At first, Olive’s mom oversteps her boundaries in trying to help her. By the end of the novel, a balance is achieved between allowing Olive to be independent and encouraging her to follow through. Olive also learns that, in friendships, growing apart and having different interests is okay. Her friends even encourage her in her choice to become a host. The novel has a solid plot portraying realistic issues for friendship and family. Miller shows these serious middle school themes in a lighthearted way that doesn’t take away from the tension.

Creatures with Emotions: A Review of How to Be a Good Creature

how to be

How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in 13 Animals
By Sy Montgomery
Illustrated by Rebecca Green
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, September 2018

In ten brief chapters, Montgomery recalls her time with and lessons learned from 13 animals – some known only for days, some beloved family members. Each chapter is part biology lesson, part biographic narrative, and part philosophical reflection on the gift of animals in our lives. Montgomery describes in vivid detail the daily routine of emus in Australia, the playful nature of an octopus living at the New England Aquarium, the charming personality of a pig named Christopher Hogwood, and the ways in which she grew and changed as a person thanks to a variety of family pets. This memoir is unique in its creature focus, and in the full range of emotions displayed by both Montgomery and her animal companions. This heartfelt memoir written for a young audience reminds us we’re all just creatures with emotions. As she states, “A far worse mistake than misreading an animal’s emotions is to assume the animal hasn’t any emotions at all” (p 148). As a read along, read aloud, or part of a larger discussion about our place in the world, How to Be a Good Creature will be at home on many bookshelves.

Women and Wealth Redistribution: A Review of The Forest Queen

The Forest Queen by Betsy CornwellThe Forest Queen
Betsy Cornwell
HMH/Clarion Books, August 2018

“Steal from the rich, give to the poor” gets a fresh take in this gender-swapped retelling of the classic Robin Hood tale. Sylvie, sixteen and lady of Loughsley Abbey, begins to question her family’s treatment of the people of Loughsley – especially now that her brother, John, is the unforgiving sheriff. With her childhood friend, Bird, she runs away and lives in hiding in the nearby woods. Slowly, others from Loughsley join them in their new community, including a young woman named Little Jane, the midwife Mae Tuck, and others who feared otherwise being jailed for their inability to pay egregious taxes. Sylvie must eventually confront her brother, along with her own complicity in the evils done by her family, and she comes to realize that the changes required for economic justice mean she must take “radical action” and put herself in potential danger for the greater good.
Sylvie and her mission to redistribute wealth among the people of Loughsley are easy to root for, but the additional focus on gender roles, womanhood, and the idea of community as family are what set this retelling apart. Strong secondary characters help to challenge Sylvie and force her to take a strong stand against a system that she would otherwise benefit from, and parallels can be drawn from the injustices in the story to those of today’s world. As Little Jane, who becomes a dear friend to Sylvie says, “If someone doesn’t care whether you live or die, then living itself is rebellion” (p 241). This thoughtful narrative of what can happen when the privileged few horde wealth while the majority struggles to make do with less and less shows the power in a united band of concerned citizens.

September B3: School Days

It’s nearly back to school time—yikes! In honor of all the teachers, librarians, parents, and oh yes, KIDS preparing for the first day of school we will be reading with that theme in mind for the first Butler Book Banter of the academic year on Thursday, September 6th.

So whether you’re looking for friendship, perseverance, and heart in your stories or mean girls, homework overload, and scaredy ninjas (oh my!), we’ve got the book for you!

Young Adult: People Like Us by Dana Mele (Putnam, February 2018)

People like us

Middle Grade: Class Action by Steven B. Frank (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2018)

class action

Picture Book: The Secrets of Ninja School by Deb Pilutti (Henry Holt, March 2018)

the secrets of ninja school

There are always a bus-load of school themed books this time of year, so if you have a new favorite that’s not on our list, bring it for show and tell.

Please note, we’re making some small adjustments to planning this semester by shifting the meeting time to snacks at 6:30 p.m. and discussion from 7-8 p.m. Also, drop us an RSVP note at butler@dom.edu or comment to whichever social media post you happen to be reading.

 

See you in September,

Jen Clemons

Curator, BCLC

 

Pride Month 2018 Reads

Pride Month is here, and with it new LGBTQ+ books for all audiences. This is only a sampling – visit us to see the entire selection and more!

julian

Julian is a Mermaid – Jessica Love, Candlewick Press

When Juliàn sees three beautiful mermaids on the subway, he is both in love and encouraged to embrace his true mermaid self. Will Abuela appreciate his transformation? Filled with evocative and whimsical illustrations, Julian is a Mermaid is a delightful and thoughtful exploration of non-conforming self-expression.

 

doing it by hannah witton

Doing It – Hannah Witton, Sourcebooks/Fire

There is a chapter specifically devoted to LGBTQ+ sex education in this nonfiction resource. Since the author is a straight cis woman, she rightfully invites several own voice contributors to write each section. Sex and gender are defined, followed by profiles on being transgender, transsexual, genderfluid, queer, bisexual, pansexual, and asexual. Witton then discusses coming out and ways to be a good ally (starting with acknowledging privilege).

 

girl made of stars by ashley herring blake

Girl Made of Stars – Ashley Herring Blake, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Owen and Mara are twins, with an unbreakable bond. It was Owen who unquestioningly accepted Mara’s coming out as bisexual to their family, and Owen who consoled Mara after she broke up with her best friend and first girlfriend, Charlie. Then Owen’s girlfriend, Hannah, accuses him of raping her and lines are drawn. Mara is torn between believing her friend or her brother, while also missing Charlie. With focus on consent, victim shaming, and the insidiousness of rape culture, Girl Made of Stars has emotional and timely relevance.

 

picture us in the light by kelly loy gilbert

Picture Us in the Light – Kelly Loy Gilbert, Disney/Hyperion

With a scholarship to RISD and the loving support of his family, Danny has almost everything he needs in life. Except a future with his best friend, Harry, and an explanation for his parents’ secrets of the past. Unraveling the mystery of his family along with exploring his own feelings for Harry isn’t easy for Danny, and could disrupt everything he’s worked to achieve, but he is determined to know how his past will affect his future.