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[Image: Illustration from When Grandma Gives You A Lemon Tree, by Deenihan & Rocha]
About May’s Good Finds
- Age-reference: Tested by: The Little Earthquakes (LE) – Supreme Court Justice Q (age 6.5) & Dokkaebi-in-Chief R2, (age 4.5)
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This is a quick link list for folks who like to click through and add these to reading lists. See below for a review of each book.
- When Grandma Gives You A Lemon Tree
- Cry Heart, But Never Break
- El Deafo
- What A Truly Cool World
- Crab Cake
- After The Fall
- Mary Wears What She Wants
- Human Body Theater
- The Cat Who Lived With Anne Frank
Books we’ve been searching for
We found this book just in time to read it before Q’s 7th birthday, and it is perfect. Representation-wise, the illustrator normalizes a girl of color, urban city life, and competent and savvy elders. Take THAT, racism, classism, and ageism!
Beyond that, it’s the funny and wonderful pre-birthday book, showing kids how to graciously accept disappointing gifts. There’s also a subtle nature-over-screens message in the illustrations, as we see all the kids who DO have the gadgets she never got ditch them to hang out in the community garden she’s inspired to build after growing fond of her lemon tree.
We get this out of the library every six months or so, plus any time someone we know dies. It gives us a chance to sit with our feelings about death and find peace. I’m glad we had this book in our arsenal, and that we had read it before my mother-in-law (the Earthquakes) grandmother died last week, and again afterward.
Really, what I want to do is create an entire public book collection centered around this book and a few other death-positive books, but AAAHHHG, no time. Anyway, it’s sad and beautiful and lovely, and the Earthquakes reference it and use it as a tool to discuss their thoughts whenever they need a moment to process their feelings about Grammy’s death.
You’ve probably seen me using images from this book in earlier posts because it’s perfect for healthy feminine anger. It’s lovely. We have lots and lots of girl-power books featuring girls kicking ass and being awesome, but very few books with them showing doubts or fear about breaking gender constructs. We also have plenty of books about boys breaking gender constructs and wearing dresses, but not so many about girls.
This book is a fictional re-imagining of Mary Walker and her choice to wear pants in public. It’s great for women’s history and breaking gender constructs – but ALSO for the depiction of her (single?) dad, who is supportive and wonderful, while also giving Mary the space to make her own decisions. Feminist dads yay!
Beyond that, it shows that pushing against social norms works. Girls wear pants now and it’s not a big deal. This inspires my little dudes to wear all the skirts they want, knowing that they can make a long-term difference and make good change for future generations. Luminary rebels!
There aren’t many picture books addressing the holocaust and antisemitism from a beginner level. Most books assume kids have learned about these topics before reading the book, or kind of tap-dance around the subject, leaving parents and teachers to do the heavy lifting.
Before we found this book, our introduction to the holocaust was ‘Oskar and the Eight Blessings’. That’s a lovely, heartbreaking book, but it’s a little vague and due to the time frame, is only engaging around the winter holiday season. Oskar works for younger kids (4+).
The Cat Who Lived With Anne Frank is a bit wordy, so it was a good read with Q (just turned 7) and R2 couldn’t really understand what was going on.
Throughout the story, we discussed the symbolism of the swastika (from the POV of the Cat, the author called them ‘black spiders’ which was kind of ambiguous and confusing, I wish they just called it what it was) and explained why this is a symbol of hate and terror and not something to joke about.
Our city has a large Jewish population and the swastika shows up in and around our schools on a regular basis. So unfortunately we have to discuss what to do when we see a swastika, why and how to report it, and why it’s our job to support and stand with our Jewish friends and neighbors. The story included gentile accomplices without centering them, this was well-done.
Q got it – the horror of it sunk in before we really got into the meat of the book. Like The Journey, Lost And Found Cat, and Shelter In Our Car, this book is not a fun read – it’s one of those books we read because it’s our job to dismantle ignorance. Q knows why we read these books, but he asked that we never read it again, because it shook him. Good. (And yes, after a breather, we will be reading it again.)
R2, who considers himself the family ‘artist,’ adores this book. Q was happy to sit through it for a few reads, but R2 asked to read this every night for weeks. He thinks about it all the time, and references it throughout the day. Since we started reading it, R2 has started referring to himself as ‘the kind of person’ who makes a mistake or an accident and turns it into something good.
It’s an adorable book about tenacity, innovation, growth mindset, and pivoting from disaster into opportunity. So lovely!
Books that made us laugh
Q is FINALLY old enough to read ‘El Deafo’ with me and I AM EXCITED. It was a perfect read together for first grade. Yay for more #OwnVoices Deaf makers! Yay for tackling issues of internalized ableism! Yay for showing microaggressions from well-meaning hearing folks! Yay for non-closure on the complicated feelings about puppy love crushes! Yay for unpacking and examining toxic friendships! Yay for juvenile humor that let kids see themselves mirrored in!
All of this book is perfection.
We tried this book out last year, but the Earthquakes were just too young to get the humor. This year, however, it was AWESOME. Lots to discuss here.
This is a controversial book on many levels. Fundamentalists are angry at the joyful and casual playfulness of personifying God. White folks (and actually a lot of Black folks) are SOOOO ANGRY at the idea of picturing God as Black. Lots of folks hate that a woman (a Black woman!) talks to God without submission and that God respects her insight as a colleague and equal. Lots of racist white folks, and lots of boomer Black folks, hate that the author glorifies and revels in the joy and comfort of AAVE.
We can get into how all of these criticisms are founded in Cosby-esque racism, sexism, classism, and rigid literalist fundamentalism, but I’m assuming you’re already privy to that. If not, let me know and we can unpack all this further.
So anyway – all of this, I LOVE IT. I’m not going to claim any sort of authority on how we should be depicting God, particularly since I’m not a believer in an actual huge physically conscious dude with a beard up in the sky who lives in the cloud. I’m not even Christian.
BUT – my kids are pulling this idea of a personified deity from pop culture and friends at school. And if they are going to envision God personified as a cisman, this is the closest I can think of to perfection. Someone who has nothing but love and joy in his heart for all of creation. Someone who respects and listens to women. Someone who makes something imperfect, listens to feedback from his children, and then keeps making. Someone with a sense of humor. If my kids are to learn about a Christian God and get the gist of the lovliest parts of joy and acceptance in Christianity, this is a wonderful creation story to start with.
Human Body Theater
*UPDATE* I emailed Maris and she’s agreed and would love to update the text for future revisions of the book.
This graphic novel is almost too great. It’s JAM-PACKED with clear, eloquent, and satisfying information about the human body. So much so that it’s a painful read aloud, there are so many details to cover it takes forever. Q loved reading this in kindergarten at 6, but it’s just a bit too much for 4.5. Really it’s made for independent readers, I just couldn’t wait because it answers basically every question the Earthquakes have ever had about the human body.
The ONLY CAVEAT is cis-centered language and the gender binary, such as references to “both sexes” as if there are only two and no mention of intersex folks. This book is far less sexist than any other anatomy book we’ve read, but the cissexism is still there. While most other books use ‘female’ and ‘woman’ interchangeably, this book at least uses the terms properly for sex v. gender, with the exception of one line: “Puberty generally begins around ages 10-11 in girls and ages 12-13 in boys.”
References uterus-havers as female (which is technically true, but I’d like more explanation on that) but then the line “When women first get their periods, they may be irregular, and that’s normal.” and “By the 5th month [of pregnancy] doctors can tell the sex (male or female).” Bummer. References to gestational parent as “mom” and lines like “I spend a lot of time moving, or trying to move, to stretch my limbs. (Sorry, Mom!)”
I’ve sent a message to the author asking her to consider updating the language and include intersex folks, explanation of the difference between gender and assigned sex in future editions, but haven’t heard back yet.
With these caveats, the chapter on puberty, in general, is the best I’ve found, and goes into detail on hormones and menstruation, which most authors won’t touch unless it’s a book made to exclude boys. That said, unlike most anatomy books, which center the male body except for a small slice on the reproductive system, this story is narrated by a body that turns out to be AFAB.
AND unlike most books on anatomy, the author approaches disability via the social model (not as a flaw). Not many references to disabilities beyond from Deafness & Blindness, but these are well-handled. She does use the term ‘color-blindness’ which some of my friends who are color-blind use, but I’ve heard one author prefer another term that I can’t remember off the top of my head right now. “Men are more likely to be color-blind than women,” is obviously problematic, as well as the line “But don’t worry – if you are color-blind, it’s not that big of a deal.” which kind of implies that being another type of Blind is a big deal (or that color blindness isn’t a big deal to someone, which it might be.) There’s also some deficiency language (“lack”): “BLINDNESS is where a person lacks the ability to perceive light and/or objects.” Unlike most books, it goes on to point out that there are many degrees of blindness, and introduces kids to braille. Lots of colors for skin. Also covers asthma and allergies.
So anyway, this these are basically the few lines I’m choosing to nitpick in a huge book full of really great stuff. So while I’m focusing on the flaws so you can be prepared to discuss them with your kids, know that the rest of the book is SO AWESOME.
Books that gave us hope
What do we do when a disaster strikes? In this book, we see how we don’t have to jump into perfect action to fix things right away – one small step toward normalcy and reclaiming our identities can give others space to process what happened and start making things right. This was a wonderful book that touches on environmentalism and pollution, plus the emotional impact of a sudden disaster.
This book is kind of the embodiment of Fred Roger’s ‘look for the helpers.’ How there are many different ways to take action using our individual strengths, even if they don’t appear to be relevant at first. Kind of like smashing the kyriarchy with picture books!
Also bonus points for being an AAPI multiracial author. We’ll pull this book out again for our focus on environmentalism in July.
We’ve been loving on this book for a long time now, but never got a chance to tell you about it – so I’m excited to finally highlight it!
Maybe once or twice a year, R2 will love a book so much he’ll save up his allowance and buy his own copy. He was eager and excited to buy this, and it’s remained a staple of our story time. It came in particularly handy last summer on the day R2 broke his leg and had his cast put on.
I originally thought the plot was a little thin, but the Earthquakes don’t seem to mind – the gorgeous, transcendental illustrations make up for the minimal text.
It works well to introduce the concept of the effects of trauma: “Fortunately, all the king’s men managd to put me back together. Well, most of me. There were some parts that couldn’t be healed with bandages and glue.” Although it’s a bit too simple to be a book that teaches kids about the realities of PTSD.
“After that day, I became afraid of heights. I was so scared that it kept me from enjoying some of my favorite things.” In the image, the protagonist can’t climb a ladder to get to the good cereal on the grocery shelves. This was a wonderful opportunity to discuss lack of accessibility for folks with mobility disabilities, and it makes Q angry. I love this.
There’s also a message of tenacity and enduring through failure: “Making planes was harder than I thought. It was easy to get cuts and scratches. But, day after day, I kept trying……and trying…” we see him sporting more and more band aids, but still trying. R2 really loved this because it showed that booboos are a part of progress and that we can keep going through them if we want to.
At the climax of the story, my favorite part is the message about courage – Humpty admits that climbing back up that wall, he was terrified the whole time, but kept going anyway: “I didn’t look up. I didn’t look down. I just kept climbing. One step at a time…” This is PERFECT for when we’re doing something hard and frightening. Although I’m not wild about the line “Until I was no longer afraid.” which suggests that fear is something we get rid of eventually – not always true. I’d prefer my kids keep embracing fear and feel it alongside pride and accomplishment. ages 3.5+