The "Color Your Bookshelf" Booklist

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I’ve posted a few book lists, and there will be more to come. But I intentionally do not post a list for Black History Month. Nope, I didn’t, and here’s why. I don’t think that “featuring” African American stories and famous historical events at a specified time is how we teach our kids to become open, accepting children of the world. I think it’s important to feature people of color, different family structures, cultures, and religions not for a “special” month, but always. I’ve put together a list of favorites for those of you who’d like to make a more conscious effort on what you stock in your children’s library. For the sake of simplicity, I’m calling this the Color Your Bookshelf List. Keep in mind, these aren’t books to preach at your child, they don’t have outright in-your-face lessons about diversity. These are fun, adorable stories with main characters of a variety of backgrounds. My theory is, when your child experiences diversity in their own book collection, they won’t question accepting it elsewhere, it’s just what they know!

The Diversity Starter Pack Booklist

1. Grow Happy by Jon Lasser and Sage Foster-Lasser

2. Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

3. I’m Like You, You’re Like Me by Cincy Gainer

4. I like Myself! by Karen Beaumont

5. Mama, Do You Love Me? By Barbara M. Joosse

6. Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow

7. Ezra’s Big Shabbat Question by Aviva Brown

8. Color Our World by Elle D. Risco

9. I Hear A Pickle by Rachael Isadora

9. The Hike by Alison Farrell

10. A Boy Like You by Frank Murphy

11. Full, Full, Full of Love by Trish Cooke

I've taken the liberty of reviewing a few of of the books on this list, which you can read below!

1. Grow Happy by Jon Lasser and Sage Foster-Lasser

The main character in Grow Happy is Kiko, a little Asian girl who loves gardening with her dog, Chico. She uses lessons on how to make her garden successful as a metaphor for growing happiness in her own life. I would have been happier with a little more subtlety in the metaphor, but that’s my personal preference! It covers the standard health rules for happiness, exercise, rest, nutritious diet, etc. so it’s certainly a valid lesson that kids should be exposed to early and often. I love that the lesson focuses on the child being ultimately in charge of their happiness and all the things they have control over.

The illustrations were done by Christopher Lyle using crayons, acrylic paint, digital media, and cut-paper collage. His beautiful use of mixed media results in some fantastic textures, which added so much interest to what would have already been great illustrations. Every page is so colorful and full of activity. I absolutely loved how Kiko’s older brother is not Asian (her mom is shown as well, and she doesn’t appear to be Asian either) which makes me think either Kiko’s family includes adoption, or they are a bi-racial family. Either way, I love the subtle nod to different family types. This is a sweet, empowering book to teach children how to be their own biggest tool for creating happiness.

I give this book 4/5 stars

2. Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Jabari is a story about a seemingly fearless little boy who decides today is the day to jump off the high dive at the pool. However, like kids do, he gets scared and starts stalling until his dad gives him a sweet, simple pep talk to give him courage again. My son absolutely loves this book. And I love hearing how he pronounces Jabari. I have a major soft spot for books that highlight the special daddy-child bond, and this book fits the bill! Dads seem to have a certain quality of interacting with their kiddos that makes them feel on top of the world, and it is so great to see that important bond represented.

I give this book 5/5 stars

3. I'm Like You, You're Like Me by Cindy Gainer

I love this book because it approaches diversity in a wonderful, joyful, open way that is perfect for young children. Many times, I pick up on an undertone of anger in books that talk specifically about diversity. Don’t get me wrong: I completely understand why, there is a lot to be angry about! As a woman, I can get awfully fiery in the face of sexism. However, when we’re talking about books for young children, I do feel the subject can be approached while respecting their childhood innocence. I don’t feel they need to know the knitty-gritty darkness of racism, sexism, bigotry, and hate as a toddler (the real world isn’t going anywhere) so this book is exactly what I was looking for! The text is simple, straightforward, and uses plenty of light-hearted examples mixed in with lines about skin color, religion, and even body image! This book touches briefly on so many things that divide the adult world and it jumps up to tell children simply “we are all the same in some ways, we are all different in some ways. Isn’t it wonderful?”

Miki Sakamoto did the illustrations for this book. Her style is bright and simple, but with a lot of attention paid to backgrounds and details. Being a book about diversity, there are children and adults of all colors, however I did notice a few things that slightly bothered me. Page 8 specifically talks about body image and liking how you look-but every child in every illustration is the same height, and same weight/body type. Even on pages where adults are depicted, the adults are all slim, of the same height, and have the exact same body type. I am all about modeling healthiness, and I’m certainly not saying obesity should be encouraged (because it is a disease and it is not healthy), but healthy does come in many shapes and sizes. For a book that touches on that subject of bodies being different, that could have been better addressed. People look different. That means more than using a different colored pencil for the skin. Also, speaking of color, YES different ethnicities are represented. However, there is only one page without a white child on it. In every other illustration, the white children are literally the center focus of the page. They are depicted higher up on the page in every image, literally in the center of the page, and in actions, they seem to be the main focus while the children of color are “background characters” so to speak. You may see this as picky and “not a big deal” but when there are 40 pages in a book and this is the case on every single page, except one, it makes me think the illustrator forgot what this book is supposed to be about. Practice what you preach!

I give this book 3.5/5 stars.

4. I Like Myself! By Karen Beaumont

Oh, to have the confidence of a young child! This is an energetic, happy book about self-love. The sweet, confident girl (who has a Cindy Lou Who energy about her) charmingly and boldly declares how she loves everything about herself, no matter what anyone else thinks, and would love herself even if she had purple polka-dotted lips! This book is a perfect example of how to introduce a very real issue in a lighthearted, non-preachy way, which I really appreciate. There is just the right amount of silliness mixed in to bring forth the issue of self-love to even the youngest reader.

The illustrations are a wonderful companion to the lighthearted text. On pages where the text could call for a more serious depiction, you have this bold little girl joyfully, unabashedly bursting with confidence and making the reader (or at least me!) laugh out loud! Both the text and illustrations were an utter delight!

I give this book 5/5 stars

11. Full, Full, Full of LOVE by Trish Cooke

I found this book while searching for age-appropriate books to introduce my boys to Black History Month. Big T is 4 years old and Little T is 2, so I wasn’t looking for anything heavy and dark. What I’m focusing on for them at this time is to know that people come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. I am making more of an effort to have more diverse books in our collection this year. Full, Full, Full of LOVE is a book that focuses on the love within an extended family. Jay Jay and his aunts, uncles, cousins, and parents go to Grannie’s house every Sunday for a big dinner. You read this book and you just feel the warmth and comfort coming out of every page. There really is something special about the love of grandparents and this book captures it perfectly!

Paul Howard illustrated this book and he has a realistic, yet soft style. I love that he didn’t try to “glam” the characters up in any way-that’s what makes it feel like home! Gran is a big soft woman and is in her comfy cooking clothes. No hourglass figure and apron and putting on a show trying to “wow” people. What I love about his illustrations is the people just FEEL genuine-so much so that I’m about ready to see if Gran has an extra seat for next Sunday!

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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