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2021 Best Kids Books For Littles
Social Justice Kids Books Curated by Actual Kids
[Image description: Raising Luminaries 2021 Good Finds]
For the full archives, you can find those here: All Good Finds Collections.
Jenny Mei is Sad (ages 4-8)
For fans of The Rabbit Listened and Noah the Narwhal, who need a more concrete narrative for literal thinkers, Jenny Mei is Sad is a short and sweet story for kids who want to support a friend through a tough time.
It’s a ‘best practice’ example for supportive friendship, whether a friend is processing trauma, a big change, or a chronic mental health rough patch.
What I loved most about this book is, like Noah the Narwhal, we accept and validate the experience of people who can still function in everyday life. Those who feel pressured to hide mental health conditions, who maintain a smile to avoid rocking the boat – and those who must still show up and shit done. We still need and deserve support, understanding, and space to lose the façade. We still need friends who aren’t rushing us to ‘get better‘ or feel and behave differently than we do right now. Mad rights!
If you like this, check out Kids Stories of Supportive Friendship and Stories Modeling Solidarity, Allyship & Accomplice Work
A few small criticisms on the execution of this book, but first – this is such a cute story!!
It’s unique and different from what I’ve grown to expect from a graphic novel for kids
Set in Indonesia (Chua is #OwnVoices Chinese-Indonesian), this thick tome tackles a few storylines about the social impact and identity impact of acquiring a disability – how Jordan’s self-identity and her social connections with her friends change as she transforms from a basketball star to another sport after she becomes a wheelchair user.
Then there’s this fluffy white magical elephant who just shows up? And everyone is like ‘Cool. Let’s enjoy snacks!”
It’s wild and lovely magical realism with a nod to cultural Hinduism, with a social story and a gentle kick of how climate devastation impacts folks without wealth and education privilege.
Okay on to the criticisms – Chua is not #OwnVoices disabled, and both her illustrations and end notes suggest maaaybe she relied too heavily on her internet research, without paying and listening to #ActuallyDisabled people. Jordan scoots around in a hospital wheelchair all day, which left me writhing in discomfort – that slab seat and that boxy chair – it looks so painful! This is a common problem when illustrators just search google images for ‘wheelchair’ without realizing that there are many different types – and a personal full-time wheelchair user needs something different than the thing they wheel you into the emergency room with.
On page 77 Jordan’s ‘friends’ use an ableist slur “That’s such a lame cover-up!” unironically – TOWARD Jordan as a wheelchair user and no one addresses that at all as problematic.
Chua says she “did a lot of research into the everyday life and sporting activities of paraplegic children and athletes. I wanted to depict Jordan and her wheelchair use with respect and accuracy.” But yea no – growing up as an able-bodied person means we can’t possibly even know WHAT terms and experiences to look for in our research. A simple mistake easily rectified by talking to… like any disabled person, ever?
Even the way she phrases the singular “everyday life” – flattens the disabled experience into a monolithic experience – a stereotype. Folks with disabilities – even those who share the same disability – live many wild and various kinds of lives. Some of which will resemble parts of Jordan’s experience – and many which do not.
Jordan’s experience isn’t straight-up inspiration porn – folks admire her for her athletic skill, not for putting her socks on in the morning. It’s a great story that acknowledges Jordan’s life does change when she acquires a disability, and some of those changes are hard in an ableist world – without candy coating the understanding that her life is still worth living and full of possibilities.
Overall worth reading, but take note of the ablewashing in the story with your kids.
If you liked this story, check out: Kids Books About Intersectional Climate Justice
Stay Curious, Stand Brave & Smash The Kyriarchy