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[Image description: Good Finds May 2020 banner]
About May’s Good Finds
- Access: Usually Good Finds collections are unlocked for Collaborator+ patreon supporters. But during the Covid 19 shutdowns, I’m unlocking all bonus & sneak-peek content for folks who no longer have access to schools and libraries.
- Interdependence in practice: If you are not financially impacted by the shutdowns and have been meaning to support these resources, I would super appreciate a $5 contribution starting around now. Come join the patreon community if you’d like to join us. Joiiiinnn ussssss!
- Age-reference: Usually these are recent finds that my 5.9 & 8 yo are loving, but since we no longer have access to the library, I’m reaching into older notes. So I’ll specify when I’m talking about books that were hits at previous ages.
- Affiliate links: This post contains affiliate links. Check out the full affiliate disclosure along with the BFL statement of accountability. When possible, I’m using Bookshop.org affiliate links, but since they’re still in beta, I’ll use Amazon affiliate links for stuff they don’t carry yet. If you run into glitches or bugs on Bookshop, contact firstname.lastname@example.org (I can’t do anything about those). If you find glitches here – leave a comment below.
- More Good Finds: For the full archives, you can find those here: All Good Finds Posts
For folks who want to quickly cut & paste to create a reading list:
- All The Way To The Top
- Neatlings Chore System
- It Began With A Page
- The Dark
- The Boring Book
- The Adventures of Isabel
- I’d Really Like To Eat a child
Let’s unpack some books!
Books we’ve been searching for
OH MY GOSH I have been WAITING for this for years!!!
Normally, when discussing disability rights and the ADA, I start out through a side door normalizing disability with Amy: The Story of A Deaf Child. From there, we read Separate is Never Equal. And then we have to manually introduce the history of Amy Rowley in her fights for accessibility in education and the modern-day fights for inclusive classrooms. Which is exhausting.
But this book ties all of that into a nice neat bow – showing the true story of Jennifer Keelan and her work as a youth disability rights advocate. Introducing the collaborative action and organizing that it took to get the ADA started (although not so much the continued struggle to keep it in place and get abled folks to comply with it.)
For adults, you might enjoy slowly ramping up on your history of disability rights advocacy within the era this book takes place in. For beginners, start by watching Drunk History’s Judy Heumann Fights for People with Disabilities (about 8 minutes), and then once you realize how badass our advocates are, move on to the delightful Crip Camp on Netflix.
This isn’t a book, but this is my website and I’m the boss here so I can do what I want!
So as you know, both me and one of my kiddos have executive functioning disabilities. Which makes getting up in the morning and putting pants on a little harder than it is for people who can do that without a visual plan and a 12-step checklist.
So now that the kids are home isolating in the pandemic and we’re unschooling, this is the perfect time to get a handle on our basic daily routines.
This chart is SO WELL DESIGNED. Each kid has a designated chart and card color. We started a few weeks ago with single self-care cards, adding one every couple of days. This week, we moved on to the chore cards.
I don’t really have enough space here to talk about it – feels like we need a whole video to explain how we’re using this to accommodate both of our disabilities. (Is that something you’re interested in? If so, leave a comment.)
While the main website gave me pause (ex: token kids of color stock photos) it’s actually customizable enough to work within an anti-capitalist framework and not at all as problematic as I expected.
Sure, you could design your own chart. I’ve been through t least 10 DIY iterations for visual schedule planners and finally gave up. This solves all the problems I hit over the past 7 years trying to cobble together my own. So despite the steep price, I think it’s worth it. I ordered mine from the main website to avoid supporting Amazon, but it turns out the mom who runs this company fulfills all her orders through Amazon anyway, so it doesn’t matter where you order it from.
We implemented some of our own ideas, so it’s not enough to just hang this on the wall. But now all I have to do is utter a single code phrase, and both my kids pull themselves away from screens and run to go take out the compost or brush their teeth. MAGIC.
Have I told you about this yet? I feel like I have? But just in case…
Over the years, I’ve searched for great books with explicitly nonbinary protagonists and the pickings are slim (and clunky). I’ve had even less luck finding great books featuring Pacific Islanders.
But oh hey look at this lovely, awesome, powerful book! It’s based on a true story, it’s short and easy for young kids to understand, and it’s just adorable.
Caveat that there is a bit of whitewashing in the arc of the tale (see comment by a Mormon Hawaiian reader), but it’s a strong start – and I’m hoping we can get enough interest in this book to show publishers that we DO INDEED want more representation for the vast experiences of both Pacific Islanders and gender creative kiddos.
Books that made us laugh
Yoshitake’s books are well known in Japan, but a little harder to find in the US. These books are SO GOOD. R2 particularly loved this at 5.5, but Q also enjoyed it at 7.5. Took months before they were finally willing to return it – and this timeline coincided nicely with the start of school shutdowns and our unschooling adventures.
While I’ve been telling the Earthquakes for years the importance of boredom in exercising our mental creativity, this book drove it home in a way my lectures never could. I think it really changed how they see their days locked at home without someone entertaining them.
Another one from the archives. The trick to this one is seeking out Ogden’s hard-to-find version illustrated by James Marshall (it’s out of print).
Let’s talk about these white dudes for a minute.
I adore Ogden Nash’s poetry, in all of it’s glorious misogynistic whitewashed nonsense. Nash, of hardcore American colonist lineage, usually doesn’t even pretend that women or people of color were anything other than accessories or prizes to be used by white dudes.
And that’s where the fun comes in. What kinds of humor and absurd joy can the mind come up with when not saddled with the daily weight of fighting for your right to exist? If the entire country is designed for your benefit, what kinds of fun daydreams could you enjoy with all that free time and extra spoons?
It’s just so much fun to read aloud and live in this kind of world for a minute. Nash had the freedom to be silly. I want that freedom for us too.
So his poem ‘Isabelle’ was a hard swerve from Nash’s typical work using women as rewards. Named after his daughter, the protagonist in this poem is a badass bitch, in the best sense of the word.
On to Marshall – best known for his work in The Stupids, a series leveraging ableism against mental disabilities for neurotypical amusement. Ever the stick in the mud, I laughed along with classmates when we read these in elementary school to mask my discomfort. Knowing what I know now – they don’t just make me uncomfortable. They make me profoundly sad. Ditto the Miss Nelson series re: sexism against women in positions of authority.
So with those caveats – Isabelle’s story really takes these white dudes’ abilities to get away with anything – and gifts these privileges it into the violent give-no-fucks of a girl protagonist who will eat your goddamn face if you step to her. Which is so darkly satisfying.
The reason I suggest Marshall’s illustrated version is – in all of his fatphobic coding of large bodies to symbolize ignorance and laziness, Isabelle shoots right out the other side. Living unapologetically within her full body and shakin’ what she got with savvy tenacity. The newer editions of Isabelle thin her down because…ugh, heaven forbid any woman get through the 90’s without being forced to halve her body mass to survive.
So while the intent behind the genesis of this book, I’m sure, was malicious and ignorant and mean, the impact, if you can get past the makers, is cathartic for girls like me who were told to stay quiet, stay small, and remain an object. Cathartic in cerebral, vindictive way – like ripping into the jugulars of our oppressors and finger painting with their warm, sticky blood.
I mean, I still can’t kill invasive stinkbugs and I feel guilty picking flowers. But sometimes a girl likes to get lost in daydreams.
Without a library, I’m really digging deep (literally – I found this one wedged under R2’s mattress).
We came across this one when Q was still a toddler, and it’s just ridiculous and delightful and so perfect for the French playfulness and principles behind a child’s relationship with food.
In the US, we tend to approach our kids plates’ with anxiety and condescension. Assuming kids are so fundamentally different from adults that they can’t possibly eat like anything but refined carbs and sugar. Which has foundations in anti-child ageism in so many ways I just don’t have time to get into it here.
We have both an English and French version (so I can practice butchering the French language with my awful American accent, natch), and both Earthquakes still enjoy reading it and haughtily laughing at that picky alligator.
Books that gave us hope
I found this biography of the groundbreaking Japanese American illustrator Gyo Fujikawa while researching for a collection on AAPI women (which got sidetracked when the pandemic hit).
This is unironically illustrated by a white illustrator who defaults to whitewashed characters (sometimes she includes characters of color, but more tokenized and still culturally white) which is a head-slapper of a choice on the publisher’s part. The illustrations are cute and beautiful and you can see Fujikawa’s influence – but they lack Fujikawa’s energy and lend themselves more to Morstad’s hipstery ‘kids books secretly written for smug 30-year-olds browsing Anthropologie‘ style. Morstad’s images are always so quiet and flat, like she’s drawing not to delight kids, but to to show off her expert curation of whimsy. I could think of like at least five AAPI illustrators who would capture and spin off Gyo’s signature style with more focus on young readers.
But at least it’s written by an #OwnVoices Asian Canadian author!
Beyond the illustrator choice – the work of Fujikawa is so instrumental to everything we do here in Books For Littles, that I had to include it.
The writing is a little wordy and dry – even for a nonficton women’s history biography. Perhaps engaging for a very patient, quiet 7 year-old, or much older kids. But it was a chore to read with the Earthquakes.
Every scene reads kind of like this: In X year, she went to this place, and studied this, and had this challenge (it was hard, it was expensive, these people had too many rules, it was too white). The climax shows how Gyo was impacted by Japanese internment, but my kids won’t let me get that far.
Which is a shame because UGH the premise is so good! The plotline is good! The validating reflection of Gyo’s experience as in the ‘only one in the room’ phenomena, and then she’s discriminated against, and then she’s an accomplice for all POC, particularly during segregation and civil rights! We get to see see the push-back she got for normalizing babies of color. How she disrupted and broke the rules, how she broke gender norms in clothing (girls in pants, kids outside blue and pink.
This is the Asian Women’s History biography that scaffolds everything we do in Books For Littles. But it’s kind of a first pancake – a little burned on the edges, doughy in the middle, and not enough salt. It gives me hope though, just to know it’s worth publishing our faces on the page, no longer hidden in production.
“Let’s not follow the rules / Let’s make new ones.” – Gyo Fujikawa
Again with the complicated problematic makers. Like Nash, Snickett is complict in racist, misogynistic asshattery, (plus it’s a whole new millenium and he should know better.)
But oh his monologues are just delightful. Dude has a spectacular ability to create tension and suspense.
Imagine for a moment – the things our daughters of color could achieve if they didn’t have to waste precious bandwidth on planning how to navigate scary unwanted sexual advances or armoring themselves for the moments when recognition for their accomplishments are overshadowed by racial othering.
I like to think, once they get past the white wall of publishing, our daughters could get their insightful monologues published in succinct, spectacular picture books as easily as this white dude can.
So aside from the problematic maker (white supremacy and patriarchy really just never lets us have anything unmitigatingly wonderful) – this book opens the Earthquakes up to discussions on courage, death positivity, healthy relationships with fear and uncertainty, and the beauty and comfort of darkness.
Which are conversations we’re all having now. Uncertainty is something targeted people just have to live with, every day. But I suspect a lot more people used to comfort and privileges are wrestling with these topics for the first time.
I never thought I’d be comforted by my past experience with pain, uncertainty, and fear – but the tools I used to manage these moments are sure coming in handy now. Now let’s take these lessons in resilience and give them as gifts to our kids.
Bonus: What I’m reading this month
Non-picture books for older kids, teens & grown-ups!
I haven’t been reading much this month. At the end of the day, my partner and I are so exhausted from juggling the kids, work, supporting others, decontaminating groceries, and cooking meals from scratch that all I can do is binge Netflix and see if any cats have brought me used hand warmers in Neko Atsume. So I’ll pull some books from my archives that I loved, but never got around to telling you about.
Actually. Now that I think about it, this might be a good place to list my Binge-Watching Good Finds! Let’s do that next month. For now – books.
This was too advanced for 7y, but awesome for older kids and would make a spectacular gift for an older kid (maybe 9+?). Touching on issues of social identity and justice, self-care, types of activism, learning to acknowledge our privilege, and the many ways we can be rebels and leaders – it fits into so many of the discussions we have here, but a little too advanced for my kids, so it doesn’t quite fit into the book collections for Books for *Littles.*
I’m not particularly eager to switch from picture books to chapter books – but this book makes me re-think that. It’s spectacular, and I’ve been waiting for a good chance to tell you about it.
May is American Asian & Pacific Islander heritage month, and this is an #OwnVoices Chinese-American must-read. It’s was a bit too advanced (and heavy) for my 7-year-old, but I’m antsy for him to get old enough to engage with this story.
But I don’t want to rush it, because it’s dense with goodness and I don’t want to blow it, you know? It’s the kind of book you have to read independently, to wrestle with, so it will be a while until my kids are ready. :::So antsy:::
I love how the author respects children’s ability to hear hard things and empathize with difficult conflict. She touches on the labor exploitation traps caused by US immigration & labor policies, wealth inequality, anti-Black racism within the Asian community, East Asian / light-skinned privilege, dismantles model minority stereotypes about Chinese Americans, and shows the praxis of child-accessible activism.
There’s some mature language (“bastard,” while we cuss a lot in our home, that’s not one we use because it’s a slur against some family constellations), and the content is way heavier than the cover implies – which I like.
My favorite thing about this is that the author doesn’t fall into the evil-white-villain trope that’s been popular lately. The racists and wealthy folks who exploit and ignore the plight of immigrants living in poverty are all Chinese (and even members of our own families), which forces us to reconcile with the fact that we’re hurting our own.
End notes touch on how Chinese who fled after cultural revolution thought they were finding safety, only to miss out on economic boom, so it touches on the distinction between Chinese Americans who lived with crush of being immigrants in a white supremacist country (with perceived freedom – but restrictions in practice) while the families who stayed behind in China unexpectedly flourished, but still live without some rights we rely on in the US.
Normally I wouldn’t even mention random books by dude bros in these lists – but I happened to check it out of the library a couple weeks before the pandemic started. Having it on hand has been oddly comforting, in an apocalyptic-prepper-lite sort of way.
I have zero plans to start hunting deer or roasting squirrels (we’ve actually taken significant steps toward vegetarianism lately) – but while our local grocery store is out of plant milk and flour, it’s reassuring to know that in a worst-case scenario with no power (or internet) – I can now catch & cook a pigeon from Boston Common or leech the toxic stuff out of acorns so our kids won’t starve.
Stay Curious, Stand Brave & Practice what #StaceyTaughtUs
If you enjoyed this and found it helpful, please join me in making a quick $15 donation to Crip Camp’s Disabled Creatives & Activists Relief Fund in honor of Korean American disability rights activist Stacey Milbern, who passed away this week. The world suffers from her loss – but we can continue her work together.
Particularly now in the middle of a pandemic – our work as disabled creatives matters, our humanity and safety matters, and we need your help to stay alive.