Expanding your world view with picture books

I’m playing a lot of catch up with regards to the review copies that I have been reading over the past few months. There are a plethora of amazing titles that have come out with wonderful multicultural themes that I just have been too busy to post. This continues to be an area that I focus on with collection development as I have seen first hand what living in a white bubble can do to our kids. The following are a number of picture books that have either recently come out or are coming out very shortly.

When I finished Dumplings for Lili (June 1, 2021) by Melissa Iwai, my first thought was simply that I absolutely loved it. The story in some ways reminded me of Chik Chak Shabbat, a book I reviewed years ago. It is a story that is contained in one apartment building where each floor houses someone of a different cultural background. In this story, Lili is at her Nai Nai’s house making boas, a personal favorite. They take us step by step until step #7 where Nai Nai realizes that they are out of the cabbage needed to steam them. She sends Lili up to the 6th floor to see if Babcia has some. Babcia gives her the cabbage and then sends her to Granma on the 2nd floor for potatoes. The story continues until she has gone up and down the stairs multiple times (elevator is broken) and run errands for everyone as they are making special foods. Later, they all come together in the garden to share a delicious meal. I adore books like this. Books that allow us to preserve our own cultures and share in everyone else’s. I also love books about food. There is also a recipe for bao in the back that I might have to try with a vegetarian version.

We are All Under One Sky (June 15, 2021), by Deborah Wiles, is a lovely counting picture book that tries to subtly, or not so subtly, encourage “the message that although we are from different places, we are the same in so many ways.” With wonderful illustrations by Andrea Stegmaier, we are taken around the world to see children in different countries living and playing. For a counting book, it works beautifully and does show that we all live under the same sky and love our families in the same way. A nice book for a collection.

More than 40 years ago, Nhung Tran Davies received a doll as a gift from a little girl when she arrived in the US as a refugee from Vietnam. In 2016, her family sponsored a refugee family from Syria and she was able to give the doll to another little girl. That is the basis for the beautiful picture book The Doll. The story shows the challenges that refugees face and the importance of kindness. The doll itself watches over the first girl as she grows up and goes off to college to study to be a doctor. The doll comforts her and is a symbol of knowing that there are always people on your side. This is an amazing immigrant story as well as a story of empathy for those that are struggling.

In Rajani LaRocca’s new book, Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers, we are introduced to Bina as her family is getting ready for the Indian holiday Rhaksha Bandhan. First of all, how cool is this holiday? It is a celebration of the love of siblings. Okay, I’ve read the parts that say it is gender biased due to brothers “protecting” sisters, but I’m just going to take it as a celebration of the bond. Bina has 3 brothers and she wants to make each of them a special bracelet with a pattern of beads in the colors that they like the most rather than buying them bracelets. She talks to each of them and gets beads and little charms that reflect who they are. A very sweet book for younger children.

While Bracelets for Bina’s Brothers touches on mathematical patterns, kids who are problem solvers or soccer fans will enjoy The Floating Field by Scott Riley. This nonfiction picture book tells of a group of boys in the tiny Thai island of Koh Panyee who played soccer in the most unusual circumstances. The island itself is built on stilts and the boys can only play twice a month when the water is low enough, until they decide to build a floating field. An inspiring story of creativity and determination. It also takes some special skills to play on a floating field and not constantly fall into the water. The illustrations are fabulous and the story can move anyone.

With Ritu Weds Chandi, author Ameya Narvankar not only showcases a wedding that highlights the notion of love is love is love, but teaching us a great deal about Desi wedding traditions. Young Ayesha is super excited to be dancing in the baraat ceremony for her favorite cousin, Rita. This is a ceremony usually performed by the groom’s side of the family, but Rita is marrying another woman. While some do not agree with the marriage or the ceremony, the family continues forward and shows their love and support to Rita and Chandi. This is an absolutely beautiful book that really shines a light on the idea of keeping old traditions while changing our way of thinking.

Seven Golden Rings, by Rajani LaRocca, is a fabulous tale of ingenuity. The book says that it is a tale of music and math, but more than anything else, it is a tale of creative thinking at its best. Young Bhagat lives in a kingdom with rajah whose people unfortunately suffered because although he was kind, he was a terrible manager. To avoid starvation, Bhagat answers an advertisement for musicians to audition for the rajah with his mother’s last savings – a rupee and a chain of seven golden rings. He struggles to find a way to pay for his stay in the city, especially given that he doesn’t know how many nights he is going to need to be there. He uses his musical knowledge to break the chain of seven into three sections and not only manages to make it work, but impresses the innkeeper’s wife. He doesn’t win the contest, but perhaps he can make a difference for the king in another way. Charming book.

I happened upon this book while in the local public library and am so glad that I picked it up! Sugar in Milk is a beautiful story of being a stranger in a strange land and of making the most of your situation. The book is a story within a story and apparently is a reimagining of an ancient Persian legend. A young girl has just come to America and lives with her auntie and uncle. She misses her home and her family. Her auntie tells her a story of ancient Persians forced to leave their lands and find a new home. When they arrived on the shores of India, however, the King would not let them in because the land was already too full and couldn’t take any more. Since there was a language barrier, he showed them this with a very full glass of milk. One of the refugees took the glass of milk and added sugar to it, being very careful not to spill any. The refugee aimed to show that if the king allowed them to stay, they would make India an even sweeter place, and they did. The young girl understood that her aunt was telling her to look at her new home in a new way, to become a part of it, rather than trying to stay separate. If she was the sugar in the milk, her life would be sweeter. This is a great view of what makes America great and I love the Persian legend wrapped into it. This is a beautiful book to share.

Finally, I also love the message in Kat Zhang’s Amy Wu and the Patchwork Dragon. In this sweet book, young Amy is at school with her friends. The teacher has just read a book about dragons and now the students are making their own. Amy paints a beautiful dragon, but it is nothing like anyone else’s dragon. It has no wings. It doesn’t breathe fire. It has a long, thin body instead of a bulbous one. The other students don’t think it is a dragon, which makes Amy sad and she tries desperately to make one that feels right to her but is more like everyone else’s. In truth, Amy has made a dragon like the ones that her grandmother has told her about in stories. What I love about this book is that while Amy initially wants to cast aside her culture and history, she doesn’t feel right doing it and instead finds a way to make her culture’s dragon even more like her.

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