What We’ve Been Reading: June Edition

Between the many, many packages of books that have arrived on our doorstep and our library starting curbside pick-up (Hallelujah!), June has been a great month for us in terms of having new stories to dig into. Here’s a few we’ve enjoyed. Stay tuned for more soon!

Have You Thanked an Inventor Today? by Patrice McLaurin and Whoosh: Lonnie Johnson’s Super Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton. My kids love anything invention related. They like to create models of inventions out of Legos, they like to hot glue junk from our recycling bin together and call it inventions and they love stories about inventors. The… ummm… quirkier… the inventor the better. Between that and their love of humor, sometimes I think I have the next Fred and George Weasley on my hands. But I diagress… Anyhow, I knew that these two nonfiction picture books about Black inventors would be winners in our house. I was right. When I read them Have You Thanked an Inventor Today? they were delighted to discover they share a last name with the inventor of the lunch box (John Robinson). That is until, one of them declared he is changing his last name to Crum to honor George Crum, inventor of the potato chip. Meanwhile, they sympathized with Lonnie Johnson’s desire to have a workshop of his own to store his parts and junks for inventions. Plus, after learning about his struggles to find a toy company that wanted his iconic Super Soaker water gun, they were overflowing with ideas for toys they are going to invent.

The Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson. I love Angela Johnson’s writing. I did a book discussion group with a class around her book The First Part Last when I was a librarian and gosh, did that book resonate with the at-risk teens I was working with. None of them were teen fathers that I knew of, but Johnson just has a way of drawing a reader into her story. After reading The Sweet Smell of Roses with my kiddos I know she can do the same with a picture book. The Sweet Smell of Roses brings the reader along with two young girls who join Dr. Martin Luther King on one of his Civil Rights marches. I think Johnson’s use of repetition (“the sweet smell of roses”) throughout the story that I so enjoyed was lost on my tiny listeners, but they too were enthralled. They asked a lot of questions, which of course, is just what I want them to do when I read them this type of book. They wanted to know more about Dr. King and Eric Velazquez’s remarkable illustrations made them ask about the white people who were yelling at the marchers and the police officers at the protest. I am really glad we read this one together.

The other Angela Johnson book I bought recently is Joshua by the Sea. It’s a board book and the simple text is really too young for my kids now, but we live near the beach ourselves and have had many family excursions to explore the seashore just as Joshua does. We’ve read this one a couple of times and even if it only takes a few minutes, it’s a great, if too rare, story of a Black child enjoying nature.

Cooking with Herb the Vegetarian Dragon by Jules Bass. I like to daydream about becoming one of those people that grows her own food, cooks homemade bread, and makes yogurt and berry jam in her kitchen. But it’s really never going to happen. You could say it’s laziness or you could say it’s because I’m an Enneagram 4. But whatever the reason, I simply do not really like to cook. It’s very unfashionable to admit it, but hey, I’m all about the truth. Still, my kids are obsessed with Herb the Vegetarian Dragon by Jules Bass. And I am a fan of this lovable dragon who dares to be different too. So when we found out that Herb has his own kid’s cookbook, I was willing to purchase it. Sadly, it’s out of print, but Better World Books still has a few copies. In the back of my head, I figured there was a better than 50/50 chance that we would never make anything from it. But my kids are more motivated chefs than I am. After they made me sit down and read through the mini-storylets about Herb included before each recipe, they were eager to get out their mixing bowls. I dug around and discovered that I actually had the ingredients to make the Rosemary Pan Bread, even the yeast. I get really invested in my dreams of becoming a domestic goddess. So we whipped up a batch of bread and to my wife’s shock, it was good. Which is all by way of saying, this is a worthy cookbook. If it can teach me to make decent bread from scratch, it can teach your kids too. Next up, my kids tell me, are corn fritters. And in case you know me in real life and doubt the veracity of this story, here my friends, are photos to prove that yes, I baked and no, I didn’t burn the house down in the process.

Rain School by James Rumford. We have recently made the official decision to keep the kids at home for another year with me instead of starting them in preschool. So we’ll continue on our adventures of home learning. One of my learning priorities is to expose them to as much of the world as possible through books. In my humble opinion, seeing people of color from countries outside the United States is a part of raising anti-racist children. Plus, there are just so many great stories out there that are set in other countries. Rain School is one of them. The children in one village in Chad are ready for their first day of school. The youngest kids, new to school, are excited to get pencils and notebooks and learn to read like their older siblings. They arrive and are greeted by their teacher. There’s just one thing missing. A school. The children are told that their first lesson will be building their school. After constructing the building and making desks out of mud, the children dig in to book learning. By the end of the year, their heads are packed with knowledge, the rainy season starts and the story comes full circle. My boys and I both loved this book.

Your turn! Tell us in the comments what you’ve been reading lately.

Disclosure: As a Barefoot Books Ambassador, I earn commission on any of the Barefoot Books ordered from these links. I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.  Bookshop.org supports independent bookshops.

What We’ve Been Reading: June Edition

Joyful Reads in the Midst of the Struggle Against Racism

My birthday bookshelf. There’s even space for more books!

Last week was my birthday and I think it was my most bookish celebration of all time. My parents got me a big bookshelf that will hold all my “grown-up” books. It is beautiful and so nice not to have piles of my books all over the floor of our bedroom. A dear friend gave me a gift certificate to our lovely local bookstore. They just started booking private appointments for people to browse for 45 minutes (with a mask on), which sounds like heaven. And my gift-giving superstar of a wife got me a fabulous purple hammock. I have dreams of lounging in it for hours reading books. That is, if I didn’t have kids…

Courtesy of Barefoot Books, Better World Books and Ashay by the Bay and the the United State Postal Service, I received another round of birthday treats too. The books I have been ordering recently started to arrive (an aside, reader, I need the library to re-open before I go broke). I was, as you would imagine, delighted to see all those new stories on my doorstep. The ones we have read so far are just wonderful. They are full of vibrant illustrations, beautiful storytelling and a cast of lovable multi-racial, global children.

We are enjoying them so much that I started to feel a bit guilty. There is an awful lot of pain, grief and sadness in the world right now. Should I really be spending time delighting in these beautiful books or should we only be reading serious stories of racism and white privilege? After all, my four year olds don’t know who Rosa Parks is. We have a lot of work to do.

And then I saw a tweet:

I’m a parent, author and former college interviewer. Please hear me- in this time of “stress” people want to flood their kids with books about racism. Please provide 20 joyful books for every one book on racism. They also need to know POC kids are like every other kid.” – Christine Taylor Butler

This tweet made me take a deep breath. I do need to read more books to my kids that specifically explain racism. I have one on Rosa Parks coming in the mail. And we need to continue reading joyful books about People of Color. Stories in which Black children live their lives, spend time with their loving families, make friends and face all the challenges and pleasures of childhood. This is not separate from my efforts to raise anti-racist children because Black children matter, Black families matter, Black stories matter, Black lives matter.

One of my greatest teachers on issues of race and peacemaking is Osheta Moore. I wrote about her book here. One of her manifesto points for aspiring shalom seekers is that they “choose subversive joy.” This is the phrase that repeated in my mind when I read my new copy of The More We Get Together by Celeste Cortright. It’s Barefoot Book’s new Spring of 2020 sing-a-long. Naturally, the publishers, author and book team did not know all that would be happening in our world when this little book was launched into the world. But, readers, this is the right book for our times. The children and community members in this story are Black, Brown, Asian and white. Several characters have a disability. At least one woman wears a hijab. And do they ever get together and engage in practices of peace with joy!

Set to the familiar tune of “The More We Get Together,” these children make the air cleaner by riding their bicycles, helping their neighbors, eating and gardening together and even writing letters and speaking up to make their world a better place. Bettania Zacarias’s illustrations are so vibrant and joyful (I can’t stop using this word) that they make me smile every time I see them. Look:

The book comes with a CD that includes the song on audio and the animated video version. My kids love the animated video. The burst out dancing and twirling in the living room when we watched it the first time. I call that a win.

Tackling the insidious racism in our society and engaging in other social justice work is a marathon, not a sprint. If we want our children to engage in this work wholeheartedly, they must see the joy that is possible both in the work and in the peace and justice this work can bring. Obviously, this struggle cannot and will not always feel good. We white people need to be willing to feel uncomfortable and broken hearted as we confront our role in a racist society. But we should not forget the joy in the midst of all the pain.

A final note: On Saturday, we watched the Sesame Street/ CNN Town Hall on racism for families. It is so worth an hour of your time. Even if your kids only watch the first 5 minutes of Elmo talking to his dad like mine did, they will run off with a better understanding of racism and how we all need to work together to make the world more fair. Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum recommended a brilliant resource: Social Justice Books. So many books lists and recommendations. Check it out!

Disclosure: As a Barefoot Books Community Bookseller, I earn commission on any of the Barefoot Books ordered from these links. Any earnings I receive from this post will be donated to the Children’s Defense Fund.

Joyful Reads in the Midst of the Struggle Against Racism

Diverse Audio Books for Kids on Hoopla

Obviously, my deeply nerdy passion for books played a huge role in my decision to become a librarian, but there was more to it than that. I considered for awhile working in publishing and that would have fit nicely with my book love (and also my author worship). There was a bit of serendipity involved in my ultimate career path. After my freshman year of college, I applied for internships with several publishing houses in Boston and one with my hometown library. I never heard from the publishers, but bless her heart, our library director hired me for the summer. That internship led to almost twenty years working at that same library. In the end, librarianship was a much better fit for me than publishing and the reason is a simple one: access.

It turns out that in addition to loving books more than is probably healthy, I passionately want to make books accessible to people, especially to children. There are many wonderful publishers, authors and non-profits (including Barefoot Books) who have started initiatives to get books into the hands of low-income families. They do important work and I love them for it. But, in my admittedly biased opinion, no other institution has more of a societal impact on book accessibility than public libraries. If you want to convince me otherwise, you can give it a go in the comments section, but I warn you, I am a tough sell.

This is not to say that libraries are perfect. Far from it. Like most American institutions, libraries have a shamefully racist legacy. Many public libraries adhered to segregationist policies in the first half of the 1900’s. And today, there is still work to do. Book collections are not diverse enough, behavioral and fine policies are often exclusionary and library staff does not reflect the racial diversity of their communities. In my experience, few libraries have the budget to properly train staff in any area, including anti-bias or anti-racist training. And as we grapple with the role that the police play in our society, libraries need to ask some hard questions about how to handle security in their buildings.

Still, in terms of providing access to anti-racist and diverse literature, libraries are a key player. With many (most?) libraries still physically closed due to the pandemic, book access is a real concern. I fully support purchasing books from independent bookshops, especially black-owned shops. And as blog readers know, I personally purchase lots of books from Better World Books to keep things affordable. But purchasing books is not a privilege everyone can enjoy. I am heartened when I see how many people are seeking out and sharing recommendations for anti-racist books and stories depicting Black and Brown characters. However, sharing diverse books with children should not be limited just to families who can afford to purchase books.

Hoopla is not a 100% solution to the problem of access. Not every library subscribes to Hoopla. For these readers, the library’s Overdrive collection will be a better source, but Overdrive collections vary too widely from library to library to create a useful list. Even if families do have access through their library card to Hoopla or finds a book on Overdrive, any downloadable ebook or audio book requires a device and the internet. We have a lot of work to do in terms of access too. Sigh.

Still since Hoopla is a solution for at least some families, I went through and curated a list of audio books that either featuring Black and Brown children or are written by a Black or Brown author. This list is not comprehensive, nor have I read all of them (if I haven’t read them, they are now on my Hoopla favorite list for future listening). Please be a aware that some of the books do not explicitly mention a character’s race, so it may be a bit ambiguous. But I have done my best to limit these books to ones that depict Black and Brown children.

A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams. This classic picture book about a young girl whose family is saving money to buy a comfortable chair for their apartment once won a Caldecott Honor. This is a favorite of mine for its racially diverse characters, it’s portrayal of a family headed by a single mom and a realistic, child friendly look at life in a working class, urban family. Highly recommend this book. You can buy it here.

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty. I love Beaty’s Questioneers books. The first one was Rosie Revere, Engineer. Ada Twist, is a Black scientist who tests her family’s patience with her science experiments. But she persists and continues to ask and investigate all her “why” questions. This rhyming picture book is fun, funny and joyous. Perfect for all future scientists and curious kids. Buy the book here.

A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee. This award winning chapter book features 12 year old Shayla, who does her very best to avoid trouble of any kind. When her older sister becomes involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, Shayla takes part in a protest that makes her question her studious avoidance of all conflict. I am looking forward to listening to this one over the summer. Buy the book here.

Barack Obama by Nikki Grimes. Hoopla features plenty of books about Barack Obama and Michelle Obama for that matter, but I picked this one to feature because it is by the amazing Nikki Grimes. I love everything she writes. Her lyrical poetic style makes her such a treat to read. And she even narrates this story on audio. If you want it in physical form, buy it here.

Chocolate Me by Taye Diggs. The little boy featured in this wonderful book for the youngest read aloud audience is teased for having dark skin and curly hair. His mother helps him see how beautiful he is. Buy it here.

New Kid by Jerry Craft. This book is the winner of the 2020 Coretta Scott King Book Award, which is “given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.”   Appealing tweens and teens, the protagonist in this comic book starts school in a racially homogenous community and struggles to fit in. It is also available as a Hoppla ebook. Or you can buy it.

Come On, Rain by Karen Hesse. Tess is tired of the boiling hot summer weather and the dry cracked earth. She tries to coax the rain into giving them some relief. When she succeeds there is a joyful dancing celebration. Buy it here.

Elizabeti’s Doll by Stephanie Stuve. When Elizabeti’s mama has a new baby to care for, this nurturing little girl starts lavishing the same care on her doll. A sweet story that earned Stuve an Ezra Jack Keats Award. Buy it here.

I am Enough and I Believe I Can by Grace Byers. These two releases by Byers feature gorgeous illustrations of Black and Brown children and universal messages of self-acceptance and self-confidence. These titles are getting a good amount of well-deserved attention. Buy Enough here and Believe here.

I Love You More Than… by Taye Diggs. Our family has a tradition, started by my mother, of trying to one up each other by coming up with the most extravagant declaration. “I love you more than books,” “I love you more than pizza,” “I love you more than toys” and so forth. This book reminds me strongly of the way we seek to let our children know that they are unconditionally and grandly. This is a message for children of all races. Buy it.

Journey to Jo’burg by Beverley Naidoo. This book takes place in South Afica during apartheid. I tried to mostly stick with books set in the U.S. for this list, but the message that grotesque racism has been grappled with other places can be valuable for middle grade readers. The children in this story must venture into the city to find their mother at work when their baby sibling is seriously ill. On their journey, they are confronted with the reality of racism in their land. Buy it.

Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes. Here’s another pick by the wonderful Nikki Grimes. Dyamonde Daniel is a third grader with a big personality. In this series debut, Dyamonde is determined to discover why the new kid in her class, Free, is so unfriendly. Buy it.

My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King by Martin Luther King III. Biographies, picture books and otherwise, of MLK are not rare but this one is set apart from the rest because it was written by Dr. King’s son. A great introduction to this Civil Rights icon for younger children. Buy it.

My Name is Tani… And I Believe in Miracles by Tani Adewumi. Tani was 8 year old Nigerian refugee when he learned to play chess. Thanks to a very special teacher, he manages to not only adjust to his new school, but become a state chess champion. Buy it.

Something Happened in Our Town by Marianne Celano. This book, which centers on the aftermath of a police shooting has been on a lot of anti-racist lists recently. It can be hard to find for purchase, however, so I am pleased that Hoopla offers it.

A note: in my last post, I did not include affiliate links because it did not feel right to potentially earn income from the reality of racial discrimination in the United States. The main links on this list go to the Hoopla listings. I am, however, including Bookshop.org links for anyone who wants to purchase these books. Any commission I earn from this list will be donated to The Children’s Defense Fund. This decision was inspired by one of my best teachers, Sarah Bessey, who did something similar in her soul inspiring newsletter.

Diverse Audio Books for Kids on Hoopla

Book Recommendation: Shalom Sistas by Osheta Moore

This is not a book review; this is a book recommendation. A review, by definition, provides a critical analysis of a book’s style, content and merit. But this blog is not Kirkus Reviews and I am not in a position to judge how Black authors present their lives’ stories to the world. Instead, I am simply highly recommending that you read Osheta Moore’s book on “living wholeheartedly in a brokenhearted world.” You may remember that my recipe for a good spiritual memoir requires honesty, good theology, a healthy amount of humor and the ability to glean spiritual insight from the everyday moments. I first read Shalom Sistas about six months ago and it sure ticked all the boxes. I knew immediately that I wanted Osheta Moore to be one of my teachers. I am grateful I have her book to return to in these days when the brokenness of the world is on full, heart wrenching display. Honestly, you should see how many sections of her book I have underlined and starred. I had to stop myself from quoting her whole book right here in this blog post.

I just called this book a spiritual memoir and the publisher classifies it as “Christian Life.” But it really goes beyond either label. In many ways, if I had to categorize this book (here comes the librarian in me), I think I would call it “Community Building.” Moore’s blog, Shalom in the City, that preceded her book, the book itself and her podcast, Shalom Ya’ll, are ways in which this peacemaker is gathering people together to do the work of what Martin Luther King Jr. called the “Beloved Community”. She likes the imagery of the city of God, but whether you call it that, the Beloved Community, or the Biblical “Kingdom of God,” Osheta Moore is giving us the tools we need to find peace for ourselves and then bring that peace out into our world.

In her adult life, Moore has lived in New Orleans, Boston, Los Angeles and Saint Paul Minnesota. Before Hurricane Katrina, her job involved doing specific peacemaking work in New Orleans. After being displaced by the storm when she was eight months pregnant, she and her family found refuge in Boston. A mother of three young children, separated from the city she loved and no longer doing professional peace work, Moore found herself feeling adrift. Like so many of us, she had fallen prey to the lie that our accomplishments give us our worth. Happily for all of us, she was brave enough to reject this fallacy and do the work to find a “third way of peacemaking that doesn’t require us to be peaceful by disposition or by occupation.” This books shares her path so we too can follow it.

The spreading of shalom (which she defines as God’s dream for the world) that Osheta Moore feels called to is, in fact, what all followers of Jesus are called to. Moore describes it this way: “That ache you feel, the sense that the world is not right? That’s the shalom in the city of God calling us back home.” To help her fellow shalom seekers, she has crafted a manifesto that focuses on finding shalom in our relationships with God, ourselves, each other and the world.

Each of her manifesto points is fleshed out into a chapter of her book. The first time I read this book, I had recently left a full time job that formed a huge part of my identity. In many ways, my performance in that job determined my own sense of worth. Rather suddenly, I found myself working part-time from home while caring for my children. It was a change I wanted with all my heart, but I found myself struggling with how I could make still make a difference in the larger world when my days were filled with Legos, playgrounds, read alouds and snacks. So. many. snacks. From this vantage point, Shalom Sistas had many lessons to teach me. Moore’s personal story, her focus on everyday acts of peacemaking and the concrete Shalom Steps at the end of the book were just what I needed.

As I reread the book now, it is point number 8 that stands out to me. I will serve before I speak. From where I stand as a White woman, this is a message I think I need to remember. Yes, sometimes I need to speak up for justice, but the world needs to hear from Black people about their experiences with race America. I need to listen and discover how I can best serve in this area. Moore’s podcast is about to launch a series called Dear White Peacemakers. And I will be listening to each episode closely. Episode number six in the series is going to address racism and parenting. I am particularly eager to learn in this area because as the mother of two white children, I think this is where I can have the most impact at this moment in my life.

Early on in Shalom Sistas Moore says, “The world needs more imaginative theologians who can connect us to the heart of God in brave, new ways.” She is the theologian she is wishing for and gosh, does our world need her!

Book Recommendation: Shalom Sistas by Osheta Moore

Finding Suggestions for Anti-Racist Books

I have always tried to purchase and borrow board and picture books for my kids that depict children and families from a variety of racial backgrounds. As I’ve mentioned before, we live in a very racially homogeneous area so as a White mother of White children, I have a responsibility to ensure that our children see Black, Indigenous and People of Color in our reading material. Recent events have made me even more determined to help my children understand and confront racism and their own privilege.

As a trained librarian, I may be an expert on finding information sources, but I am not an expert on race. I am grateful that there are people who share their expertise on child rearing and racism. There really are so many good ways out there to find diverse books for kids. EmbraceRace and the Children’s Defense Fund: Freedom School Reading List are two places where I started my search this weekend. I also discovered and am loving the OurStory app created by We Need Diverse Books.

Here is what I’ve ordered for our house so far. I will share reviews as we read them.

A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara

Have You Thanked an Inventor Today? by Patrice McLaurin.

Rosa by Nikki Giovanni.

I Can Make a Difference: a Treasury to Inspire Our Children by Marian Wright Edelman.

Giant Steps to Change the World by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee.

A Sweet Smell of Roses by Angela Johnson

Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights by Rob Sanders

Whoosh!: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton

For me, I’ve ordered I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown. My two closest friends and I decided to read this and then discuss it virtually. I am grateful that we are creating a space to have these discussions where I can be honest and vulnerable. These women will support, challenge and help me grow in my understanding.

As hard as it is for me to admit that reading won’t solve all the world’s problems, I know that owning and reading diverse books is not enough. So I’m doing research on other steps I should be taking. If you live in a Racially Homogeneous Community like I do, EmbraceRace has a helpful tip sheet. It is also available in Spanish. I am also making my way through their other Action Guides. The Center for Racial Justice in Education also has a great list of resources to check out. Once I started looking, I discovered plenty of material. I have so much to learn!

Raising anti-racist kids and becoming anti-racist myself feels hard and overwhelming sometimes. But I know it’s nothing compared to what parents and kids who are Black, Indigenous or People of Color have to contend with on a daily basis. This is literally the least I can do.

What books do you use to start conversations about race with your kids? What other sources have you found helpful when it comes to parenting and race? Please share with us in the comments.

Note: I have chosen not to include affiliate links on any of these titles. Please consider purchasing them from Black owned bookshops or making your purchases support anti-racist organizations.

Finding Suggestions for Anti-Racist Books