Tuesday, March 1, 2016

We Need Diverse Picture Books

The We Need Diverse Books movement has brought to light the lack of diversity in many books. Readers need to be able to see themselves in stories and to see stories that resemble their lives. I've recently read picture books that perfectly exemplify diversity, both in subjects and characters.

A 2015 Caldecott Honor Book, Viva Frida is a really cool and original book. Written in both English and Spanish, I would definitely incorporate this into my study of verbs and culture if I was a Spanish teacher. (How many times a week do I say, "If I was a Spanish teacher..."?)

Viva Frida is gorgeously illustrated by author Yuyi Morales, who uses 3D puppets to demonstrate the appeal of Frida Kahlo. The reader won't get much information on Kahlo's life here, but the saturated colors and creative images capture the feeling of Kahlo's work and will inspire the reader to learn more about the subject. The simplicity of the language makes the book appropriate for even the youngest readers, who will be drawn to the colors and beauty of Morales' work. I'm glad I read this.

"Girls can't play drums." This was the rule in 1930s Cuba, even though it is a country that is filled with the constant rhythm of drums. Margarita Engle takes us through the journey of the Drum Dream Girl, who refuses to give up on what she wants.

At first, I wasn't crazy about the book. I love Margarita Engle (reviews here, here, here, and here) and have come to expect to learn a lot from her books. The transition from a novel-in-verse to picture book leaves less room to inform the reader. My opinion raised when I learned that the book was based on the life of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who fought to become a drummer. This historical context is important to my appreciation of the book.

Rafael Lopez's illustrations were what we really knocked me out. I loved his choice of colors and that the book needs to be turned sideways to view the dancers on stilts at Carnivale. This is a book worth reading and I appreciate Engle's continued efforts to share Cuban culture and history with the world.

Love, love, love.

Phil Bildner's book, Marvelous Cornelius, reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, "Work is love made visible." Inspired by the life of Cornelius Washington, a New Orleans sanitation worker, it tells the story of love for a city and its people. Cornelius' spirit and positive attitude made him a real hero for his community. He loved his city before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina.

John Parra's illustrations are what make me want to add this to my library. The colors pop off the page and the busy paintings bring New Orleans to life. There is so much to pore over in this beautiful tale of resilience. It will be interesting to pair with Don Brown's Drowned City. The books couldn't be more different and are both accessible to many readers, so could lead to excellent conversations about Hurricane Katrina and the response to it.

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