Teaching Cultural Compassion
The Year of the Rabbit
Lunar New Year is almost here and to ring in the Year of the Rabbit, I thought I'd recommend some books about Lunar New Year and a book or two that involve rabbits.
I very rarely include board books in my recommendations, which I am working on, but I found two great board books on this topic! I highly recommend Chinese New Year Colors by Rich Lo (a simple bilingual color book), The Animals of Chinese New Year by Jen Sookfong Lee (featuring beautiful photographs and descriptions of the zodiac animals' traits) and Lunar New Year by Hannah Eliot and Alina Chau. Alina Chau also illustrated another of my favorites, The Nian Monster by Andrea Wang. Both books feature jubilant drawings of celebration! Another great re-telling of that tale is Nian: The Chinese New Year Dragon by Virginia Loh-Hagan and Timothy Banks.
My newest favorite is Friends are Friends, Forever by Dane Liu and Lynn Scurfield, the story of two best friends in China celebrating the new year, knowing one of them will be soon moving to the US. After the move, Dandan learns about her new country and finds a new friend... who would like to understand her traditions!
Because it's the Year of the Rabbit, I thought I'd also include The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld (an excellent book on grief and queit presence) and the classic Knuffle Bunny trio by Mo Willems (together, the full childhood experience of a kid and their stuffy).
Reminder that a small commission for books purchased through TCC's bookshop.org list links go toward furthering the work of Teaching Cultural Compassion.
Lunar New Year is Upon Us
In January I wrote about new beginnings based on the Gregorian calendar date. But February celebrates the Lunar New Year! Celebrated by many of East Asian heritage, the lunar new year is a time for new beginnings and family celebrations. If you want to read some books about kids partaking in this tradition, here are a few:
A Gift written and illustrated by Yong Chen is about a girl of Chinese heritage living abroad. As she and her mother get ready for the holiday, they feel the absence of their extended family--but Amy has a gift waiting for her--from family in China! This is especially good for a younger audience.
Long-Long's New Year: A Story About the Chinese Spring Festival by Catherine Gower, illustrated by He Zhihong follows a boy through his preparations for the new year with beautiful, traditional style paintings!
I hope you enjoy these books and seek out others.
Wishing you all luck in the Year of the Ox!
Will You Be My Valentine?
Though Valentine’s Day commercializes itself as a holiday celebrating romantic love, I want to suggest some books that remind us of other kinds of love!
I have to plug ONE romantic love book. Though it seems silly, Worm Loves Worm by J. J. Austrian is a poignant story about loving someone for who they are and not letting anyone else change that love. Love is love.
After romantic love, the first love one might think of is the love of family. While there are a lot of amazing Mom books out there; Dad books are harder to find. Dad by My Side by Soosh is one of the most beautiful books that fits that bill. Written and illustrated by a father daughter team, it exemplifies the best moments of love between a father and daughter.
The love of a grandparent is a special thing. Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love shares this love in a tentative way at first, not knowing if it can stand the test of Grandma knowing the truth. But (SPOILER) Grandma comes through! Another lovely Grandma book is Grandma’s Purse by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. (This link even has a read-out-loud link right there on the author’s site!) A granddaughter sharing Grandma’s history and life through the items in the purse show this unique bond in a fun, colorful way!
Kids also certainly understand the love of animals, as beautifully illustrated by Claire Keane in Love is by Diane Adams. Knowing that love can be caring for something you know isn’t yours and will someday have to leave is an integral part of growing up. This book says it perfectly.
Kids also love other people without asking too many questions-- My Best Friend by Julie Fogliano & Jillian Tamaki shares a story of exactly that. These two kids ARE best friends, aren’t they? (SPOILER) Even if they just met today and don’t know each other’s names? A story about love in perhaps its purest form, My Best Friend is a new joy to add to any bookshelf!
Lastly, even if there is no specific contact, a kid can still show love through a wave or a smile. Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein is a great story about how one simple gesture can change the world. In the world today, we need more smiles!
So, I hope you’ll be my valentine and read some of these books with your kids!
Giving Thanks for Thanksgiving
It’s the time of year when we remember to give thanks for what we have. But this holiday comes with a lot of historical context and baggage that we don’t always unpack for our kids. On the positive, did you know that Thanksgiving became a national holiday because of a WOMAN who wouldn’t give up? There are several great books about her out there, but my favorite is definitely Thank You, Sarah! by Laurie Halse Anderson.
There are also books about more modern Thanksgivings and new people coming to this country. If you haven’t read Eve Bunting’s How Many Days to America? I would highly recommend it as well. It’s a beautifully written story about children from an unidentified Caribbean country who escape persecution by getting on a boat. A little like the Pilgrims, these children are looking for a new, better life in America. Amazingly, they arrive at Thanksgiving and their first impression is one of unity, gratitude, and giving. We certainly need more of that in this country today.
If you want to teach your children a little more about the early origins of this country and the origin of some of our unique foods (like pumpkins and corn, often on our Thanksgiving tables), I highly recommend Yum! ¡MmMm! ¡Qué rico! America’s Sproutings by Pat Mora. Pat gives us wonderful short haikus she has written along with a small box of facts about each native plant!
Unfortunately often, especially in gen x, Thanksgiving brings memories of being dressed as "Pilgrims" or “Indians” for school plays, or even at home for Thanksgiving. We now know a LOT more about what that initial encounter may have been like, and we know that our cultural appropriation and bolstering of stereotypes was at the very least in poor taste, if not downright offensive. You may or may not know that November is also “Native American Heritage Month.” If you want to talk to your kids about American Indians, I highly suggest going to the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. It’s a beautiful, Smithsonian, FREE museum with an AMAZING food court. (Definitely my favorite lunch stop if I’m on the National Mall.) Short of traveling, though, you may be able to turn to books to offer your kids a broader idea of American Indian life.
So, if your kid comes home from school with a construction paper feather headdress, these might be your key to opening their eyes to some of the greater historical context--and the fact that American Indians are STILL HERE. American Indians/Native Americans are not only the smallest demographic population in the United States, but also the least represented in picture books. It is important to find the right representation, and finding books by Native authors is the best way to do that. All of these books are #OwnVoices books, meaning they are written by American Indian writers and/or illustrators. For more on why reading Own Voices books are important, click here. For your further information, the tribal nation of each author is offered after their name.
Some of my favorites are:
Sky Sisters by Jan Bordeau Waboose (Nishnawbe Ojibway)
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Maillard (Seminole)
Greet the Dawn: The Lakota Way by S. D. Nelson (Standing Rock Souix)
Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee - I also recommend just about anything by her)
Shi-Shi-Etko by Nicola Campbell (Nłe’kepmx, Syilx and Métis)
And if you really want to chat with your kids about different tribes and their distinctions and the history of these tribes in this land, you can educate yourself at https://americanindian.si.edu.
If you encounter something in a picture book and aren’t sure if it’s a stereotype, you can also make use of Debbie Reese’s (Nambé Pueblo) American Indians in Children’s Literature, where she covers many books for children. (She has some Thanksgiving recommendations as well!)
I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving and I’m so glad you’re here to make the holiday a deeper, richer tradition for your kids!
The Age Old Question: How do you spell Hanukkah?
As The Leevees say in their song of that name, "Is it with a C or H? I am confused..." And that's what happens in transilteration from a non-Roman alphabet! Either way, there are some great Hanukkah books out there, whether you're Jewish or not! Before the holiday of lights begins on Sunday, here are my top five (and bonus 2):
Little Red Ruthie by Gloria Koster and Sue Eastland is by far my favorite--because it takes a story with which most people are familiar and fills it with a sweet filling of the Hanukkah story! As usual for this story, we have a girl in a red hood who is met by the wolf in the forest. However, in this telling, she talks the wolf out of eating her by promising him latkes that will be MUCH TASTIER at her Bubbe's house. While she cooks, she has the time to also teach him about the Maccabees!
The Eight Knights of Hanukkah by Leslie Kimmelman and Galia Bernstein is a newer addition to the Hanukkah picture book canon, but will be a joy for both Jewish and non-Jewish children alike. When a dragon endangers the kingdom's Hanukkah celebrations, the eight knights have to save it, each by doing something that represents a tradition.
Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon and Tanya Simon with illustrations by Mark Siegel reaches back for some historical fiction about a Jewish boy, new to New York, a refugee after Kristallnacht. As he attempts to find family from only a picture, he finds kindness in eight strangers. Beautifully illustrated and a lovely way to begin a discussion on such a difficult subject.
The Ninth Night of Hanukkah by Erica S. Perl and Shahar Kober brings in a little interfaith/diverse celebration of the Jewish holiday. When Rachel and Max move to their new apartment during Hanukkah, their parents can't find the box with the decorations ANYWHERE. But they're creative and resourceful and invite all of their new neighbors to help in one way or another to create a wonderful, even if late, Hanukkah celebration!
Red and Green and Blue and White by Lee Wind and Paul O. Zelinsky is based on an actual event that happened in 1993, but is just as relevant today. When anti-Semitic vandalism ruins a family's holiday, their Christian neighbors respond by decorating in solidarity. This book about how kindness can help overcome hate is a good lesson all year round, but especially at this time of year, for all of us.
Unfortunately, two of my interreligious favorites are much harder to find to buy (so the links are for worldcat so you can find them at your local library).
Jackie’s Gift by Sharon Robinson, Jackie Robinson's daughter, and illustrated by Earl B. Lewis, is actually a true story. When baseball star Jackie Robinson moves his family to a new neighborhood, one neighbor kid is excited to meet him. When Jackie hears that this kid's family doesn't have a Christmas tree, he takes it upon himself to rectify that awful situation.... not realizing they don't have a tree because they're Jewish. This heart-warming story about miscommunication and kindness is sure to make you laugh.
Another holiday that sometimes coincides with Hanukkah is Diwali. In Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas by Pamela Ehrenberg and Anjan Sarkar, adventure begins for a half Indian/half Jewish family when they get locked out of the house! The youngest, smallest, usually getting into trouble kid will have to become the hero of both holidays. It is very rare to see this combination in a picture book, so I am very grateful that it's also a great story with fun illustrations!
I don't usually write about videos, but I recently came upon Amazon Prime Video's Snowy Day. Created in 2016 (about the same time as A Poem for Peter, which is a great read if you haven't found it yet) with cameos from major Hollywood stars and even Boyz II Men, this 40 minute special elaborates on the book we all know so well. It shows the full diversity of a New York neighborhood with shopkeepers and neighbors, including a Jewish mom and daughter with a bit of a lesson about Hanukkah traditions! If you have Prime, I highly recommend it (even if you're not watching with kids).
Happy (C)Hanuk(k)a(h) and happy any other holiday you are celebrating this month. May these books be a blessing to you and yours!!
Reminder that I will receive a small commission for books purchased through my bookshop.org list links.
If you haven't bought gifts for your holidays yet--or if you're planning to donate books, please read my guide for buying gifts.
What Message Are You Giving?
It's that time of year when giving is at the forefront. Whether you're giving books to kids in your life or donating kids you don't know and may never meet, think before you buy. If you have heard me speak, you've heard this before, I'm sure your favorite book from when you were a kid is great, but is it the best book for the recipient?
If you haven't seen it, check out this infographic from the Children's Cooperative Book Center at the University of Wisconsin is a great representation of how kind of mirror children's publishing gives to our children of all demographics.
If we want our kids to see value in themselves (and in others) we have to make sure we know what message we are sending. If you are getting books for kids in your life, consider what books they already have. Are their books diverse? Find something they don't already have! If you're buying a book for a kid you don't know, look at the demographics served by the organization collecting the books. If the main community served is a Latinx community, think about buying bilingual books! This allows for more family time at home as well as being a great book to read. Consider what the kid receiving the book might want to see most in a book before you buy. If you don't know, pick a book that represents multiple cultures and ethnicities!
The books I have chosen here should be in lots of local bookstores, national bookstores, and some of them even at TARGET! So, look for them in person. If you can't find them in person, you can always order online!
After the last inauguration, almost everyone knows who Amanda Gorman is. Change Sings is a new book that combines her moving poetry with the ever imaginative and colorful illustrations of Loren Long (known for his Otis the Tractor books). The story reminds us all that when we join our voices together, we can truly make change for our communities and the world.
This is the perfect book to have by your bed and read first thing every morning. I Will Be Fierce! by Bea Birdsong & Nidhi Chanani walks the reader through the day of the character starring in the book as she makes the fierce decisions to stand up for fairness, do her best, and take on the day!
When Lucia is told by kids on the playground that girls can't be superheroes, it makes her sad...until she tells her Abuela and, as grandmothers often do, SHE knows just what to do! Little did Lucia know, she comes from a long line of LUCHADORAS!! She not only CAN be a superhero, she was BORN to be one. Lucia the Luchadora by Cynthia Leonor Garza & Alyssa Bermudez is a Spanish/English bilingual tale that is a lovely intergenerational read!
A Spanish/English bilingual story written by Latin Grammy Winner Lucky Diaz and brilliantly illustrated by Micah Player, Paletero Man is the story of a boy in LA running through his neighborhood to find his favorite Paletero (ice cream man) for a cool treat. Unfortunately, he drops all of his money in his run there--but is supported by his community when they see what he's missing. It even has a very catchy song version!
You can find these books and a few more on my bookshop.org affiliate page by clicking here. Reminder that I will receive a small commission for books purchased through my list links.
Children’s books as presents: Don’t buy just any book
Now that Thanksgiving is past, we have hit the time of year we are often inundated with thoughts of buying presents for the children in our lives. This year, I encourage you to buy children’s books, but not just any children’s books — books that teach cultural compassion. For a few winters, I worked at a major book retailer. Though not assigned to the children’s department, I often covered breaks for co-workers. There, I was often asked for opinions and suggestions for books to buy as gifts. The shelves were filled with books to suggest, but sadly we lacked books with girls and children of color as protagonists. I realized how important it is for every kid to see themselves in the books they read, to identify with the characters. I worked hard to keep books with diverse characters in stock and available.
YOUR favorite books
If we aren’t buying gifts for the kids in our lives, we often volunteer to buy things for an Angel Tree or are asked to provide books for holiday baskets or book drives. At the bookstore, we had a sponsored book drive. Many people didn’t care what book they bought for the drive and allowed us to pick within a price range. As the booksellers, we knew the audience for whom the books were being purchased, so we would pick accordingly.
Many people, however, wanted to buy their favorite book for the drive. This is great in spirit, but in reality may not be as helpful as intended.
Many people are unaware of the bias currently shown in children’s books. Most books with human characters feature a white boy as the protagonist. How does that help children who are girls and/or children of color see their innate worth?
Keep in mind
Please keep some of these things in mind when buying books for children you know and children you don’t know this holiday season:
Know your audience. If you want the child for whom you are buying books to believe that all people are of sacred worth, buy books that challenge stereotypes by having girls and people of color in positive, leading roles. Keep in mind that finding a book that reflects this may be harder and more time consuming.
If you don’t know your audience. If you don’t know the child for whom you are buying the book, buy a book that shows several children of multiple genders and multiple races or ethnicities.
Look for the message. Read the book before you buy it. If the lesson learned isn’t positive or if the book engenders stereotyping, look for a different book.
If you just aren’t sure, check out the “Book Search” feature at the top of this page to help you narrow things down.
If you’re looking to buy books about Christmas or other winter holidays, here are some of my favorites:
I hope your winter holidays create more joy than stress and that you enjoy these books as much as I do!