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Picturebooks That Focus on Black Children and Their Families

Janelle Mathis, University of North Texas, Denton, TX

Cover of Tiara's Hat Parade depicting a young black girl smiling with a blue hat on her head as her mother smiles down at her while making a green hat.

As I continue sharing topics or theme that seemed to be predominant in the many books read by our Notable Children’s Books (ALA) committee, in this WOW currents I will share picturebooks focused on Black children and their families. While this is not a new topic within the books published each year, children’s literature advocates are quick to note that among our diverse populations, the demographics, as continuously recorded by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center regarding populations does not align proportionately with the books published that reflect diverse children. Books sharing the stories of Black / African American children have been continuously increasing in terms of rich tapestries of historical events, previously untold stories of significant individuals, and general narratives of childhood across genre. However, this past year I found interesting, important, and pleasing, the continuous and abundant submission of realistic fiction picturebooks to our committee that specifically focused on the contemporary Black child and family relationships. Among these many books from 2020, I noted culturally specific stories, universal narratives around Black families, and books that celebrate and affirm identity for a child within these families. The seven titles shared here are merely a sampling of these books that stood out for me over 2020 but ones that uphold the potential of children’s literature to serve as mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors (Rudine Sims Bishop, 1990) for children across the globe. Continue reading

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Picturebooks Created by Authors and Illustrators Outside the USA

Janelle Mathis, University of North Texas, Denton, TX

Recently, I was asked if I saw any particular trends in children’s books in the USA over the past few years. It didn’t take long for me to respond given that during the past two years, I had the privilege of working with other educators and librarians on ALA’s Notable Children’s Books committee. As stated on its web page, “As applied to children’s books, notable should be thought to include books of especially commendable quality, books that exhibit venturesome creativity, and books of fiction, information, poetry and pictures for all age levels (birth through age 14) that reflect and encourage children’s interests in exemplary ways.” Continue reading

WOW Recommends: Book of the Month

WOW Recommends: The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out

José Mujica is no ordinary president. He lives on a small farm with his wife and three-legged dog. He drives a light blue, 1987 VW Bug. When he served as president of Uruguay from 2010 to 2015, Mujica donated 90% of his $12,000 per month salary to charities that worked to support small businesses and those living in poverty. It’s no wonder the citizens of Uruguay affectionately called him “Pepe.” But others around the world called Pepe Mujica “the world’s poorest president.” Pepe dismisses this nickname stating, “I don’t feel poor. Poor people are those who only work to try to keep an expensive lifestyle and always want more.” Readers should know that Pepe is also known for unapologetically speaking his truth even if his words cause discomfort. Continue reading

Authors' Corner

Author’s Corner: LeUyen Pham

Megan McCaffrey, Governor’s State University in Chicago, Chicago, IL

Profile photo of LeUyen Pham with her black hair up against a bright white backgroundLeUyen Pham prides herself on providing multicultural representation in her books whenever possible or, as she has stated, to make sure children do “not feel excluded.” She, more than most, can firsthand relate to more than one culture and believes children should see themselves in books. LeUyen was born in Saigon, Korea, in 1973. She and her family were several of the last refugees on the roof of the United States (US) Embassy rescued by helicopter during the fall of Saigon in 1975. She was only 2 years old at the time Saigon fell and her family escaped. Her family made their way to the United States via several stops along the way with the help of a sponsor and settled in Temple City, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. Besides both her Vietnamese and American culture, she also has strong French connections. The most immediate connection being her mother who is half Vietnamese half French. Her husband is French graphic artist Alexandre Puvilland and her two children with Puvilland attend a French School in Los Angeles. Another French connection comes from her own Vietnamese heritage; Vietnam was occupied by the French from the late 1800s until the mid-1950s, leaving its cultural marks throughout the larger Vietnamese culture and most likely LeUyen’s parents lives. Hence, LeUyen is not only part of multiple cultures but also is also part of a culture that she did not see represented in children’s literature while growing. Continue reading

WOW Recommends: Book of the Month

WOW Recommends: The Most Beautiful Thing

Illustrated cover of The Most Beautiful Thing depicts a child kneeling by seated grandmother. They are surrounded by flora.There are many things beautiful about The Most Beautiful Thing by Kao Kalia Yang. First, it shares the story of a young refugee from Laos and her grandmother. Then it has richly-colored illustrations. But the most beautiful thing might well be different for each reader. It is an emotional refugee story, a narrative of the challenge of poverty, a theme of acceptance, and a reflection on how beauty is identified. Each can be found in this sensitively told story that evolves from the author’s personal experiences. For me, the most beautiful thing about the book is the intergenerational relationship that reveals a mutual bond of love, respect and admiration, setting this book apart from many others that tell of relationships between children and grandparents. One quote represents the tone of this relationship:

“The luckiest of the grandchildren got to help take care of grandma.”

Both Kalia and her grandma are in the forefront as Kalia lovingly takes care of her grandmother, listening to her stories of growing up. Grandma’s story of life in the jungles of Laos are told as related to Kalia’s questions and the challenges of her family having little money. These stories create a brief cultural and historical background for young readers through a rich interweaving of past events, such as Grandma having to run to escape a tiger, with Kalia’s daily life. But they also create a parallel between the two generations as to the challenges of poverty each faced and the love of family that proved stronger than these challenges.

The Most Beautiful Thing is rich with sensory imagery as Kalia describes her grandmother’s soft but dry skin, her rough feet with “deep cracks filled with dirt from long ago and far away,” and the single tooth that stood strong in her mouth. The mixed media visual images created by Vietnamese illustrator Khoa Le provide both realistic and abstract representations of both Kalia’s life with Grandma and the stories Grandma told. Rich colors and cultural motifs keep the stories visually interesting, often with symbolism that helps to show the passage of time as Kalia gets older and Grandma gets slower, although nonetheless wiser.

Kao Kalia Yang shares the Hmong refugee experience from her own childhood, but most impressive are the memories of family, stories, and lessons learned about “the most beautiful thing,” a grandmother’s smile. The focus is uplifting and invites readers of all ages to consider the beauty of the relationships they create. Among her other picturebooks are Map Into the World and The Shared Room. She has also written for adults. -Recommended by Janelle Mathis, University of North Texas

Author: Kalia Yang
Illustrator: Khoa Le
ISBN: 9781541561915
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
PubDate: October 6, 2020

Each month a committee of Worlds of Words advisors recommends a book published within the last year. Our hope is to spark conversations on our website and on social media about the book that expand global understandings and perceptions. Please join us by leaving a comment. You can also share your thoughts with us by using the hashtag #WOWRecommends on social media. Check out our alphabetical listing of all the books featured in WOW Recommends.

WOW News

The Tucson Festival of Books Goes Virtual in 2021

The Tucson Festival of Books goes virtual March 6-7, 2021! The Children’s and Teen sessions will be available on-line and live at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Arizona time. Worlds of Worlds: Center of Global Literacies and Literatures has been involved with the festival since its inception, and we will continue this year as your guide. Download a PDF version of the schedule of the Children’s and Teen sessions. For an accessible schedule, visit tucsonfestivalofbooks.org.

Tucson Festival of Books logo with sponsors listed Continue reading

WOW Recommends: Book of the Month

WOW Recommends: Brother’s Keeper

Cover of Brother's Keeper, depicting a girl and a young boy climbing an icy mountain.
North Korean, 1950. What the world comes to know as the Korean War is imminent. Determined to escape the North Korean regime during the chaotic days at the onset of conflict, the Pak family joins the stream of evacuees headed to South Korea while they feel they have a chance to escape. But then there is a napalm bombing, and the throng of refugees is thrown into turmoil. What happens next is chronicled in Brother’s Keeper, a piece of historical fiction for middle grade students. Continue reading

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Hidden Stories of Hope: Relevant Picture Book Biographies for Science Classrooms

by Karen Matis with Charlene Klassen Endrizzi

In our last WOW Currents entry of the month, Charlene and I consider the challenges of supporting science preservice teachers. In past weeks we examined the usefulness of Young Adult picture book biographies to humanize complex content in ELA, history and math classes. We believe middle school learners deserve occasions to study change agents whose lives demonstrate a bridge between complex school content and purposeful use of this content in everyday lives. Continue reading

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MTYT: Charlotte and the Quiet Place

by Seemi Aziz, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, and Melissa Wilson, Leeds Trinity University, Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK

Rounding off the first month of 2021, we discuss Charlotte and the Quiet Place and take one last look at how mindfulness may help us during this stressful times.

The texts discussed this month may offer readers (and listeners) some peace during these most turbulent times. They are books that thematically deal with the concept of mindfulness through a narrative. There are many new books being marketed for children that are guides to mindfulness practices. A quick browse on Amazon yields pages of “activity books” that offer to help children process feelings, step-by-step manuals for doing meditation with children, and even books to help teach children “growth mindsets”.

Sometimes the best way to deal with a difficult present and an uncertain future is to lose yourself in someone else’s story. Through reading, or being read to, you can experience different ways of living on a deep level. These experiences can give much succor and “practice runs” at figuring out how to live a life well.

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Hidden Stories of Determination: Relevant Picture Book Biographies for Math Classrooms

by Charlene Klassen Endrizzi and Karen Matis

This month of WOW Currents invites readers to examine adolescent picture book biographies providing relevant disciplinary points of connection for middle school math learners. Three books focus on determined female mathematicians with an additional text featuring a football player of note who pursued his passion for art following a professional sports career. Continue reading